Let’s reflect on the types of things we’ve been holding onto, and what causes us to hold on.
I’m going to give a list of some of the things we hold onto, with some examples of reasons … this isn’t a complete list, but some common examples:
- Possessions. Why: Often the possessions are gifts that people have given us, mementos that represent memories, things that represent aspirations, things that represent our identities. Why let go: All these possessions end up cluttering up our lives, weighing on us, and letting go clears up space and gives us freedom from possessions.
- Distractions. Why: We go to Facebook, Twitter, favorite news sites or blogs, video sites, photo sites … because they represent something easy and exciting. They give us something new each time, while staying with the hard work task we’re struggling with is not easy. So we’re holding on to paths that are easier, more fun. Why let go: by holding onto distractions, we’re harming our focus, harming our practice of staying with difficulties, harming our mission.
- Anger/frustration. Why: We want our way, and when someone else doesn’t do things our way or give us our way, we really don’t like it. They have insulted us, been inconsiderate. So we are holding on to what we really, really want. And perhaps our identity of being a good person. Why let go: anger harms us. It’s no fun. It hurts our relationships.
- All the things we want to do. Why: We have so many projects we want to accomplish, so many things we want to learn, that letting go of any of them is difficult. We want to hold onto the hope that we can do it all, learn it all, because we have a fantasy that it’s possible. This fantasy is exciting, and letting go can be very hard. Why let go: It stresses us out, having so much to do. It keeps us from focusing. It means we’re constantly going to be disappointed in ourselves.
- The image of who we want to be. Why: We fantasize about the person we want to be, and when we read an article about someone else who is doing something cool, we fantasize that maybe we can do that too. It’s lovely to think we can be this fantasy. Why let go: Unfortunately, the fantasy can make us disappointed in ourselves, frustrated when things aren’t going according to fantasy. And it gets in the way of appreciating the goodness in ourselves right now.
- Wanting things a certain way. Why: This is another form of fantasy, that things should go the way we want them to. Once our brains lock in on a fantasy, it’s hard to let go. Why let go: We’re not always going to get our way, so we’ll be frustrated when we don’t, mad at other people for not giving it to us. Letting go allows us to be more flexible, accept other ways, be more at peace, appreciate the moment in front of us.
- Having everything done or orderly. Why: This is just another version of the “wanting things a certain way” fantasy, but it manifests when we’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, feeling like everything is chaotic or messy. Why let go: it’s not possible to have everything orderly, not possible to have everything done. Stressing out only causes us harm, when letting go could give us peace for how things are.
- Being right. Why: We like to think of ourselves as smart, good people. When someone implies that we’re wrong, it goes against the identity we have for ourselves. We get angry, insist on being right. Why let go: It’s not important to be right, and wanting to be right makes us frustrated and angry. It harms our relationships. It’s better to see the goodness in others than wanting them to acknowledge our correctness.
These are just some examples, but you can see a pattern of the fantasies we’re holding onto, and the harm they cause us. Some other examples: having things comfortable, succeeding, being good at something, having others recognize how great we are, having certainty, having a great body. These are fantasies, and we hold tightly to them, causing ourselves and others pain.
Letting go allows us to be free of that pain, allows us to find peace, be flexible, stop struggling so much. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.