letting go

I step from out of salted waters
and lifetimes of lifetimes fall to my feet.

R.E. Maley
19 September 2019

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, late summer is its own season, lasting from mid-August until the autumnal equinox: a brief period of great transformation. It is the final days of summer heat moving into cool mornings and evenings; Nature in its last heyday of production; the fat, ripened fruit finally dropping from the vine.

The last several weeks have manifested similar shifts in me: many ideas integrating into larger realizations, and entirely new ways of thinking about this world and this lifetime.

In meditation this past week, I’ve chosen to notice particularly the lessons of letting go, or non-attachment. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living:

In the meditation practice we intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate some aspects of our experience and reject others. Instead we just let our experience be what it is, and practice observing it from moment to moment. Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are. When we observe our mind grasping and pushing away, we remind ourselves to let go of those impulses on purpose, just to see what will happen if we do. When we find ourselves judging our experience, we let go of those judging thoughts. We recognize them and we just don’t pursue them any further. We let them be, and in doing so we let them go. Similarly, when thoughts of the past or of the future come up, we let go of them. We just watch — resting in awareness itself.

“Letting go” conjures so many of those uniquely human ways of processing challenges: ignoring, forgetting, withholding objections to keep the peace. “I’m just going to have to let it go,” we tell ourselves when we decide we won’t say anything in today’s argument, choosing instead to reflect on what we would have said again and again for the next several years, usually while waiting to fall asleep.

Letting go, like all meditation, is fundamentally a non-doing. It is the choice not to grip, not to attach, not to justify. The choice to let go arises from the awareness that there is nothing — not “no reason”, not “no benefit” — but in fact nothing to hold on to in the first place. All thoughts, feelings, events, and lives arise and fall in their own time. Is there anything, anything at all, that can be kept in existence by our clinging to it? Even those imagined arguments and remembered traumas shift and change, sometimes throughout many lifetimes and generations.


Shunryu Suzuki wrote (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind): “We practice zazen [meditation] to express our true nature, not to attain enlightenment.”

Walk in any direction from any point on Earth, and eventually you will reach tranquility. The same is true of our inner lives. Our nature is peace. Our nature is unencumbered contentment. It is not necessary then, to strive for peace or to cling to any way of being. Let go of all things, being only your true nature. Muddy waters, in stillness, return to clarity.

This is the first in a series of reflections on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s seven attitudes of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go (published in Full Catastrophe Living, Bantam/Random House 1990, 2013).