While sitting in a Tibetan temple sanctuary, after days of silence in a meditation retreat, I suddenly felt a strong flow of energy and awareness falling deep into the cave of the heart, that spaciousness to the right of the center of the chest that the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi described as a connecting point with pure consciousness. Although I had been a meditator and a student of spiritual traditions for many years, there was still a twinge of fear, as the sensation was one of losing myself, my mind, my history -- losing everything I knew if I allowed myself to fall.
Among the fearful impulses there was a single thought that arose to support me: "I don't care if I lose it all -- I've wanted freedom all my life". At this, consciousness began falling, falling through my body and into another space, one that had the sensation of ever-expanding light ether, the kinesthetic feeling of love, and the quality of no-boundary, no limitation and no me. Awareness was above a vast sea that I now feel represented human thinking and confusion, where arms were outreached to be pulled out. I had fallen out of my mind! The heart was so expanded with radiant love it felt as if it had burst.
I've no idea how long this vision lasted, or when awareness of separation returned along with my body. I had no interpretation at the moment, only the sensation of ecstasy. Later that night I was wired with energy and consumed by joy, so I sat in my car in order not to disturb all the people at retreat who were sleeping, and I shouted my thanks to all the people and moments in my life that had led up to this experience. I felt completely graced and completely connected to every part of the universe.
This was the most profound letting go of my life.
Since that day I have found many other moments in which letting go was the only way to freedom. Every day there is an opportunity to hold on to a belief, a position, a painful memory or resentment, irritation, or having my own way. In spiritual circles the focus is often surrender, and students struggle to "surrender" themselves in hopes of discovering more of who they are. But this letting go is much more clear. It is simply not allowing a thought to control the moment, but instead to step aside and consider "Perhaps this does not matter." To what degree is the belief, position, emotion or memory really supporting the Truth you are seeking, the spiritual depth you desire, the quality of life or relationship you have committed to? Aren't most of the things to which you hold only habit? Aren't they just the patterns of an identity that defines you as separate?
We humans get caught in our conditioned systems, like computers that keep spinning at those moments we are seeking new information. As long as they spin we cannot see what we need. Our recycling thoughts hold us back from the grace of the moment, by generating fear, doubt, stubbornness, resistance, depression, anger -- we each have our own unique patterns. The concept of surrender makes us feel we will completely let go of ourselves forever. The thought itself tends to cause resistance as all the other parts of us that want expression stand up to be counted. But letting go can happen in any moment, and needs to happen moment-by-moment, when we are faced with the parts of our personal identity that are blocking our ability to be free. It is not a forever releasing, at least not at first. We can grow into it. It is in the small moments of taking a position we can learn to let go.
There are many opportunities to practice letting go. We can let go when there is a flush of anger when we are cut off by a car, or by someone in line. We can let go of resentment when someone gets a promotion we missed. We can let go of thinking about the time we said the wrong thing in an embarrassing moment. We can let go of believing we are not good enough to awaken or experience the truth of who we are. We can let go of beliefs about ourselves, about others, even about our spiritual traditions.
These kinds of letting go opportunities do not trigger a permanent shift at first, but are a practice. Some letting go just happens, like a wave of energy that passes through and drifts into the ethers. At others we must sit with the energy of our feelings, allowing awareness to fully fall into and penetrate what is beneath, get at the deeper feeling or memory, and meet it with love and acceptance. Very often the hurt of the moment is simply a recycling of an event in the past that has not been released energetically. Meeting it with compassion opens our capacity to let it go and to be free to meet whatever will arise next with more openness and dispassion.
Letting go of an issue or position or feeling does not mean one does not respond. It allows the response to come from a deeper place with more clarity and less emotion, to see possibilities that did not exist before. I had a friend tell me once that her grandfather, an American Indian, had taught her to always look for 3 explanations for whatever arises. I've found this an intriguing way to explore those things I might disagree about or fail to understand. It promotes openness, creativity and the willingness to let go of a locked-in point of view. It encourages looking from the heart and not just the head, which is primarily governed by those recycling thoughts of our history and conditioning.
Letting go of the little things allows a quality of peace and appreciation to grow within, because it opens up much space inside of us where we have been holding on to old out-dated experiences -- much like a closet needs to be emptied out from time to time. Awakening to our true nature requires an empty closet, a quiet and open space inside, a fearless meeting of nothing. We can be filled with grace when we are willing to let go of what we think and feel even momentarily, and just be completely open to this very moment. Letting go of the little things is a way to prepare for the beauty of realizing what really matters to you if you are seeking spiritual liberation.
by Bonnie Greenwell Ph.D.