“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that.The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Pema Chodron
The spiritual path leads us back to wholeness; to meet life with a compassionate heart and wise mind. And while it is what we long for, it is also challenging. Because what the path requires, is for us to “let it be…” Just this short phrase contains tremendous potential for freeing the mind and heart from our habitual conditioned responses of trying to hang on to what we like and avoid what we don’t like. In this movement, towards and away, is the stress and suffering that leads away from wholeness. As Pema says, “the healing comes from letting there be room for things to be just as they are…making space for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. And this is the invitation, whether we are on retreat, sitting on the cushion at home or in conversation with someone. It is to be present, mindful of our bodily, verbal and mental impulses and actions when there is reactivity present. And this is what we explore on retreat, we sit on the cushion and commit to be with whatever arises, meeting it with the heart of compassion and the wise mind. And in the stillness, is the practice of letting be…
Letting be vs. letting go
On the last day of our 5 day retreat, I led an experiential exercise around letting be vs. letting go. There is a significant difference between these two. Letting be arises out of wisdom, when we pause and reflect with mindful non-judgmental awareness on what is happening in this very moment, meeting it with kindness and acceptance. Letting go arises out of ego and the illusion that we are still in control of the situation, we are choosing to let go. Here’s the * exercise I shared (get a piece of paper before you begin). I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on the difference between letting go and letting be:
- Sit in a comfortable position, setting aside distractions while you do the exercise.
- Take a few moments to connect with the breath, the body, the heart. let the body and mind settle as you breathe.
- Get a piece of paper, crumple it and make a fist.
- Hold your fist out in front of you.
- Notice what it feels like to hold on to the paper so that it doesn’t fall. Tighten the grip and feel the sensations of holding on.
- Now imagine what it’s like to make your way in the world in this contracted state. Painful, stressful, uncomfortable and the heart is closed off.
- Now turn your fist around towards the sky and gently, slowly, open the hand letting the paper rest on the soft palm of the hand. Imagine what it would be like to move through the world like the open hand. Not trying to get rid of anything, not clinging to anything, just learning to let be.
Like a Still Forest Pool
“Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All Kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things comd and go and you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.” Ajahn Chah
The open hand is similar to the open sky mind that has room for all of life. Sadness, anger, fear, joy, grief can be held this space of loving awareness. This is what we did as we came into retreat; we (both teachers, support staff and participants) created a container that was safe, supportive and compassionate. And as the days passed, we could sense a letting be, a softening, curiosity, openheartedness that came with the capacity to just be with what was arising in this healing. It wasn’t that the reactivity didn’t happen, it wasn’t about getting rid of the aversion or clinging. It was about meeting it with a open receptive mind and a caring heart. And this is the sacred pause, Tara Brach speaks of. A pausing to be with what’s arising be it joy, sorrow, judgement, pain, etc. We let it be and turn towards it with the intention of bringing kindness, and compassion to this experience.
The arising of compassion and wisdom comes when we stop trying to control life and just let it be. It is only then that the wisdom to do and act in ways that are healing and caring can naturally arise. This is what this path is pointing at. The possibility of freeing the mind and heart from living in a contracted, fearful and defensive state. It’s a gradual practice. I say it is one of learning how to sit with whats uncomfortable. Bringing a sense of compassion to what is difficult. This is what helps to thaw out the icy, defended heart. And the world is in need of compassion and wisdom. So practice for yourself and know that in doing so you are helping to bring healing qualities to the world and that is Noble endeavor.
Our next Insight Meditation retreat takes place on January 3rd -7th 2020, at the lovely Casa San Carlos Retreat Center. To register please follow this link. If you have any questions please email us at wbmindfulness at gmail.com
*The exercise was taken from the book 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness by Arnie Kozak, PhD