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Letting go of the negativity and stress that hijack our attention is one of the most difficult things for people to do, because we cling to an identity we think is necessary for our survival when in reality, it prevents us from truly living.
It’s through our grip on this false identity that we create the negativity we think we can’t escape.
We cling to it due to the fear that life will come crashing down without it, but out of that storm comes the calmness we’ve been waiting for.
Calmness, stillness and emptiness only leave when we resist them, and resistance is birthed out of the apparent necessity to defend ourselves and earn what we think we deserve.
Removing the False Mask
When things don’t go our way, we resist. We rebel. We fight. I’m not referring to the fight against the powers that be; I’m referring to the unnecessary struggle against the present moment and the lessons and opportunities it brings.
From a calm, carefree meditative state, internal and external triggers can lead to resistance and cause us to create problems where there were none.
We turn great opportunities into negative experiences for us and the people around us, and we mess up good things by thinking they aren’t enough.
Overtime, our resistance forms into a negative emotional mask we wear all the time because we no longer know how to take it off.
As this false mask merges with our equally false identity as a human separate from the whole, it can lead to depression and cause us to drive away the people we love when they reach the point where they can no longer take it.
We tend to miss the signs that our behavior is making them unhappy, and when we do notice, we either blame them or convince ourselves the hurt they feel isn’t as bad as it really is. This deep rabbit hole of negativity and depression is caused by resistance to the present moment.
Non-Existence Terrifies the Ego
Without constant, continuous interaction with the external world, our sense of self slowly fades into the background.
It’s not a bad thing; it’s actually quite pleasant (although I’ve only briefly experienced it).
But as we’ll learn from Adyashanti, it terrifies the ego, which thrives on a stream of constant thought, experience and external stimulation because they verify its existence and make it stronger.
Let’s hear from some people who really know what they’re talking about in regards to emptiness and removing the mask.
I generally discourage putting teachers, gurus or artists on a pedestal simply because of the nature of their work, but a lot of gurus have spent extensive time letting go and exploring the emptiness.
They’re far more qualified to speak on the subject than me, and their words inspire me to let go and look within to determine if I am in fact the source of the problems I face each day.
Two Simple Words
For Ajahn Sumedho, meditation comes down to two simple words.
“The practice of ‘letting go’ is very effective for minds obsessed with compulsive thinking: you simplify your meditation practice down to just two words—’letting go.’ Rather than trying to develop this practice and then develop that, and achieve this and go into that; … just let go, let go, let go.
“I did nothing but this for about two years—every time I tried to understand or figure things out, I’d just say, ‘let go, let go’ until the desire would fade out. So I’m making it very simple for you, to save you from getting caught in incredible amounts of suffering.
“There’s nothing more sorrowful than having to attend International Buddhist Conferences! Some of you might have the desire to become the Buddha of the age, Maitreya, radiating love throughout the world – but instead, I suggest just being an earthworm … who knows only two words – ‘let go, let go, let go.’” (1)
Prior to reading this quote, I started to treat meditation as something that should be planned and coordinated to a precise extent to ensure it was what I wanted it to be.
Since I’m somewhat familiar with concepts like meditation and emptiness, this passage provided a missing piece of the puzzle by inspiring me to let go of the thoughts and associated emotions responsible for my unhappiness and inability to meditate.
I’ve also learned that it isn’t my job to try to teach this to anyone.
I share it in writing in hopes that it helps you, but forcing people to understand it will do no good.
Furthermore, the failure to do so can cause the frustration and tenseness most of us are trying to get away from, which will eventually lead us to realize again that we need to let go.
You are Life
According to Adyashanti, letting go is not an effort to transcend life but to realize we are life.
“Do not simply seek to transcend life, but realize that you are all of Life. You are Life itself.” (2)
When we become this fullness, we step into a life that doesn’t necessarily need to be lived with purpose. This is where the philosophy can get a bit complicated, as it’s obvious that gurus and teachers live with purpose by sharing the wisdom of the soul with a world that desperately needs it.
Passages focused on a life without purpose aren’t intended to encourage the abandonment of purpose, but to help you see that at your core, you need no purpose for being alive because as Adyashanti said, you are life.
The trees and flowers don’t pursue purpose, yet they live with purpose. This is the type of mindset these passages are intended to encourage.
The Mind Fears a Life Without Purpose
Adyashanti explains why living without purpose frightens the mind.
“Life without a reason, a purpose, a position… the mind is frightened of this because then ‘my life’ is over with, and life lives itself and moves from itself in a totally different dimension. This way of living is just life moving. That’s all.
“As soon as the mind pulls out an agenda and decides what needs to change, that’s unreality. Life doesn’t need to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Life doesn’t need to know the ‘right’ way to go because it’s going there anyway.” (3)
The mind provides a false notion of how we should respond to life by encouraging us to be stressed or fight our circumstances when they’re negative.
This prevents us from going with the flow and letting life play out however it will with the understanding that everything is okay in the big picture and there’s no need to fight.
As Adyashanti said, stillness begins to break the moment the mind decides something needs to change.
The mind becomes dissatisfied with its circumstances or the responsibilities imposed onto it by the people in our life. If you’re anything like me, this could lead to a big long rant at anyone who’ll listen that goes nowhere and achieves nothing.
Once it’s over, the mind retreats back into the peace and serenity that were originally disrupted.
So if letting go is the key to enjoying life, how can we do it? More importantly, what is letting go?
This topic will be explored in our next segment along with other similar topics, and we’ll continue to read passages from spiritual teachers on this subject in future guide issues.
For now, try to calm the mind in stressful times and remember to feel and explore those negative emotions (rather than suppressing them) without letting them take over and make you miserable.
There will be times when we can’t prevent negativity or the disruption of silence and stillness, but with a little non-effort, we can always return to this fruitful space.
- Ajahn Sumedho, C Teachings from the Silent Mind, Great Gaddesden: Amaravati Publications, 1992; c1984, 44.
- Adyashanti, The Impact of Awkenening. Los Gatos: Open Gate Publishing, 2000.
- Adyashanti, “The Only Price. An excerpt from a talk given by Adyashanti,” downloaded from http://www.zen-satsang.org/AdyaBio.htm, May 2007.
By Wes Annac, Culture of Awareness, October 17, 2016 – http://tinyurl.com/zn5gw4p