Skills for Letting Go

Ajahn Ñāniko

Skills for Letting Go

In our practice we are normally working with the core defilements of greed, anger, and delusion. Often when these defilements arise, the way we deal with them is through restraint. When we restrain the defilements it feels different than actually letting them go. With restraint, we continue to experience the defilement; it’s an undercurrent in the mind. By contrast, when we genuinely let something go, there is a feeling of being completely refreshed and replenished. There can be an experience in both the body and the mind of being filled with a clear, cool, pure substance. Restraint is important as well, however. When there is irritation or anger in the mind, or a nagging desire that won’t go away, we can first use restraint as an antidote by applying, for example, mettā or asubha practices. The mind will then loosen its grip on these defilements and let go.

Sometimes we may think it’s impossible for the mind to let go, but it is important that we not think this way. The mind will let go in its own time according to its conditioning and its kamma. In particular, letting go depends on the kamma of our skillful effort in the practice. We don’t need to figure out when the mind will let go, we just keep practicing. Walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, we keep the Dhamma teachings in mind, moving forward with faith that true letting go is possible. It is not helpful to tell ourselves, I don’t have enough pāramī to let go. Letting go is a skill. Everyone has to put forth effort, especially when we are just beginning.

Learning how to fail is another important part of the letting-go practice. About a month ago I was trying to fix an old planer. It was difficult to get the blade removed. I was in the shop with Doug, and I told him, “I’m prepared to fail at this, but I’ll give it a try.” There was one screw with a stripped head, and after awhile I finally managed to remove it. I was so excited when I took it out that I forgot to take out the other screw that didn’t have any problems. I started prying the blade out and ended up breaking the planer entirely. Afterward I reviewed my mind, and I thought, I told Doug that I was prepared to fail at this, but actually I wasn’t prepared to fail at all. I spent the next three days mired in dukkha, full of reproach about my foolish mistake. It took quite a while to let that one go. So it’s important to learn how to fail without taking it personally. After all, taking things personally is the very thing we’re learning to let go of.

This reflection from Ajahn Ñāṇiko is from Beginning Our Day, Volume One, pp. 35-36.