|A. Reaves Photography|
Now, granted, it's far more complex than that. But pretty much everything you want to achieve, can be achieved by letting go.
Say, for example, you want to become a published writer. The list of things you have to let go of could include fear, excuses, limited ideas of what you can be, a relaxed work ethic, some outdated definition of who you are, naysayers, expectations...the list could go on and on.
If you want to change a thought, you have to let go of the old thought. If you want to open your heart, you have to let go of the fortress you've built around it. If you want to be at one with others, you have to let go of the notion you're in any way different from them. If you want to move closer to god, you have to let go of needing to "know" and just trust.
If there is something eluding you in your life right now, ask yourself what you have to let go of. There is something you're holding on to—an attitude, dream, goal, outdated notion, belief, emotion, stubbornness, resistance, fear, concern, excuse, knee-jerk reaction, insecurity, thought pattern, paranoia—something. Of course, you have to be self aware enough—and honest enough—to recognize the things you're holding on to in the first place. Ultimately, the only thing that ever stands between us and the things we want out of life is ourselves.
If you've ever had a massage, meditated, practiced yoga or done any sort of relaxation exercise, then you know that your body holds on to tension in places you didn't realize. And you also know how hard it can be to let go of certain muscles...or to even know if you've let go of them...or to even know those muscles are there. Then, when you're "fully relaxed", you find another level of holding on beneath that. And you loosen that. And then, eventually, you're satisfied you're fully relaxed, even if momentarily.
This is the same process that happens on our personal journeys of growth. The more you let go of the muscle of the ego, the tighter wound you realize it is and the more places you see you're holding on that you never knew existed. And then, if it's even possible to reach a place where you think you've fully let go, you become conscious of a whole other nuance of holding on that you never knew existed.
If you're angry with someone, you're holding on. If you're sad or lonely, you're holding on. If you're stressed, you're holding on. If you're pursuing a goal, you're holding on. Even if you're happy, you're holding on. In fact, if you're alive and conscious, you're holding on...haha. Even monks hold on to their practice and devotion. We get glimpses of letting go, but we can't stay there, partly because trying to stay there would be holding on and partly because our journey on earth counts on us holding on to something. Holding on is our gravity. It's what keeps us tethered to this reality.
As you begin a practice of self awareness and letting go, you also begin to see what's working for you as far as attachments go. A wise friend once told me "move toward that which makes you feel larger" and that principle applies here. If something is keeping you stuck or making you feel small, it's time to let go.
For a different perspective, Buddhism believes that attachment is greatest source of suffering amongst humans. They define attachment as seeing the thing you're attaching to as separate from yourself. In their way of seeing things, it's possible to transcend attachments by being united with all things. So, in that way of thinking, letting go is actually the opposite of non-attachment. In non-attachment, there is nothing to let go of because there is unity in all things. In essence, you let go of your resistance to accepting this thing into your being. So that's another perspective on the situation. It doesn't make our journey as spiritual seekers any easier, though. It's just as hard to come to a place of non-attachment with something as it is to let go of it.
I estimate that some of my letting go is letting go and some of it is non-attachment. I know that the more I understand and embody something, the less impact it has on me. And I also know that I frequently feel like I'm fighting upstream with some struggles and I often visualize letting go and letting the current take me...surrendering to it. Two sides of the same coin, really.
For the vast majority of us, there's never going to come a day when we'll be here on earth without having countless attachments or things to hold on to. But we can lighten our loads, which is what the spiritual journey is about. It's about being as clear a channel as possible to transcend suffering or to receive and transmit grace, God's light, universal energy, the goddess...whatever speaks to you. Whatever your beliefs, however, the path to God or happiness or whatever you're trying to reach, can never be found by reaching toward something outside of you. It can only be found by clearing a pathway toward it within.