The concept of “letting go” is a common theme in the world of mental health. People are encouraged to “forget” about their fears, sadness, and towering responsibilities and just spend time in the present moment. Yet for many, this concept may strike them as a goal for far in the future instead of something that could be achieved right now. They may envision themselves a more enlightened being in a few years, with mindfulness exercise bringing them closer and closer to that goal of finally being able to “let go”.
But what if letting go is not nearly as complicated as we initially trick ourselves into believing? What if we don’t have to see it as a goal for far in the future, but instead as something that could be achieved right now?
What does it mean to “let go”?
The concept of letting go is generally understood as “forgetting” about anything that might worry us in any ordinary moment. However, despite the obvious problem with “forgetting” something on purpose, this also implies that letting go requires some altered state of awareness. The unburdened mind, this notion suggests, is one wherein all worries are tabled or rejected actively. This puts many of us in a tight spot, as most of us are still so caught up in our worries that just forgetting them (assuming we actually could) just seems completely out of the question.
As such, it is obvious to us when we think about this that it would take years of meditation practice for us to train our minds to stop placing so much value on these worries. This isn’t entirely incorrect, but it does slightly mislead us to our ability to feel unburdened joy right now. One way to see the answer to this more clearly, however, is to compare two popular meditation traditions.
Vipassana is one of the most widespread and well-studied forms of meditation of this age with hundreds of retreat centers around the globe. This tradition provides a very structured process of mindful awareness, with students being instructed to focus their attention in a routine of movement over the body. The ultimate goal of this tradition is for the students to become so aware of the impermanence of all sensations that it becomes easy to spot that all thoughts are also completely impermanent, and thus inconsequential. In other words, the mind is trained to such a point that it becomes much easier to recognize and “let go” of the things that would’ve worried us before.
Dzogchen is a bit more on the mysterious side. Differing slightly from Vipassana, Dzogchen does not have the explicit goal of “training the mind” to be able to spot impermanence more effortlessly, but it serves more as a technique for the student to suddenly see through the illusion of the self. Put simply, students are instructed to see that there really is nothing to “let go” of, because there is no “self” to apply our problems to.
The details of what this means and how it is achieved are not too important right now – all that is important to note is that Dzogchen emphasizes that letting go does not need a deep state of meditation, because when it happens, it happens right on the surface of awareness. It can thus be achieved in any state of consciousness.
How do we let go?
The Vipassana-Dzogchen distinction is useful in making sense of the two ways in which we can think about letting go. While Vipassana encourages a slow, arduous path to a strong mind some day in the future, Dzogchen, on the other hand, reminds us that we don’t need to wait for that day to come – we can let go of our worries right now.
So how do we do it? Well, to take a lesson from the sudden-awakening route of Dzogchen, letting go is nothing more than bringing our attention into our direct experience of selfhood. It is paying attention to “who” we think we are – while this may seem confusing to grasp, simply trying to figure this question out (even by just asking the question “who am I?”) by itself focuses the mind into a place where past and future just fizzle out into unimportant detail and allows the present moment to take hold.
So, letting go of our worries need not be a complex journey of training the mind to perform pyrotechnics, or “forgetting” that our worries exist. It is simply paying intimate attention to the present moment, even if that moment is engulfed by worry. Letting go, then, is as simple as stopping the attempt to let go.
About the author:
I am a freelance writer from South Africa who recently completed a degree with philosophy as a major. I have three years’ experience in writing professionally for non-publication purposes, and two years’ experience writing and editing copy for a digital media firm.
More importantly, though, I have been a student of mindfulness meditation and Eastern philosophy for about four years, with silent retreat experience.
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