Okay, so lets talk about ‘letting go’ for a minute, because it’s probably the most powerful tool in the box as far as rapid changes in conduct and insight go, and can have quite a bang for the buck when used as an object of concentration.

Now, you have to be careful talking about this because most people’s idea of ‘letting go’ consists of pretending they don’t care about something anymore, and doing their best to avoid having to prove it. Moving to another town to avoid your ex is not ‘letting go’. Neither is never going to the mall because you can’t help buying fried chicken at the local KFC. The two applicable words are ‘avoidance’ and ‘denial’.

Letting go means that it does whatever it wants to do and it doesn’t affect you, no matter how close or far away it happens to be.

The easiest way to do this is contemplate deeply the downside of all the things you really want, and understand that they always go together. Phenomena are always dualistic presentations. If you contemplated the negative as deeply as you did the positive, you’d have a lot more equanimity towards the whole complex, rather than chasing the head-side of the coin all the time and pretending there is no tail.

The truth of it is, that nothing ‘out there’ makes you feel anything. Feelings/emotions come from your brain and nervous system. You condition them to external objects and their behavior. And external objects will behave in a pretty inconsistent and taoistic fashion. Get a copy of the i ching. if you’re super skilled, you might get an object to behave in a way you are conditioned to ‘like’ about 70% of the time. And that’s pushing the envelope. If you’re a taoist master or anthony robbins, you might be able to ramp that up to a marvelously flowing 80% or 90%, but that 10% will be a motherfucker when it comes.

It’s really a lot more sensible to decondition as much of this stuff as you can, and learn to intelligently manage the rest. This is one of those macroscale applications of fundamental insights. If nothing out there is really a source and is not stable even if it were, then why is it leading you around all the time? and if you can see this, then what is the appropriate stance towards the external world?

The all star champion sweeping method for this is either to cultivate profound selfless love, or to meditate on your eventual demise for a long time. Both will have a similar effect of causing you to drop a lot of dead weight. It will also profoundly change the dynamics of your relationships for the better, without the nasty aftertaste of your neurotic attachments.

I’m sort of in the middle of a major experiment on this subject, so I’ll hold off until it’s a little more clear how it plays out, before I discuss it.

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15 thoughts on “You gotta let me go…

  1. this is a technical point, but taking death as an object is meant to spur practice and raise energy …and it’ll turn you into a nutcase if you do it every day

  2. well i don’t mean it so much in the jhana sense where you meditate on corpses and stuff. that’s a traditional access/1st jhana object. I just mean contemplating mortality as a source of insight.

  3. This is oddly relevant and well-timed. A friend of mine informed me of the existence of this monk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKxKGFw6B68&feature=PlayList&p=784CFE5AEA55035D&index=20

    I highly recommend giving his talk a try as it covers a very similar topic to what you were talking about here, ie. differentiating between acceptance (letting go) and control (working with, against, for).

    After listening to that talk something clicked in my brain and in my everyday life I found that accepting things as they are and letting them go are pretty much identical – whenever faced with unpleasant emotions I keep mindful of them (luckily I have a lot of free time on my hands) and they pass very very quickly (as opposed to never going away fully when I would fight them, stifle them, do something to forget about them, or even act on them), equally when remembering past emotional states that affected me, if I come back to them mindfully and consciously, they slowly start loosing strength until the emotional connection is gone. I have no idea how to cultivate profound selfless love (maybe through loving kindness, but I always feel like I am wasting time when I do it) but consciously demolishing the cultivation of profound selfish hate seems to offer a path towards itl.

    There is a form of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy, which bases itself very heavily on Buddhist ideas (as far as I can tell with my very basic understanding of Buddhism) and gives a solid framework to this form of self-mastery. It’s all just common sense, which makes it so fucking hard to integrate. Concentration practice makes it a lot easier to do.

    I see a really big difference between the tone of the monk I mentioned earlier and that of Daniel Ingram (you mention his unwillingness to add the mastery of morality training to his definition of enlightenment), while the monk happens to be very general and does not give direct instructions towards enlightenment as a clear and solid goal, he does give clear and solid guidelines towards peaceful and happy living, which surely makes the attainment of enlightenment much easier if the two are combined. However much one may frown on emotional states and happiness as an end in itself, contentment and peace are definitely good starting points for good conduct and solid practice. Watching Maybe Logic, which interviews Robert Anton Wilson just before he died makes me realise the same thing about the benefit of forgiveness and acceptance (he sounds almost identical to the damned monk I have now mentioned too many times).

  4. “The all star champion sweeping method for this is either to cultivate profound selfless love, or to meditate on your eventual demise for a long time.”

    I actually prefer “choosing a star to follow,” which you mentioned in an earlier post. Forget Anthony Robbins or the Taoists or anyone who posits that life is a heartless exercise in crisis management. Life is a passionate, daring adventure, or it is nothing.

  5. I never said anything about ‘heartless” and neither did they, as far as i know. and daring adventure doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant sentimental or stupid. a lot of people fall in love with the romance of struggle and overlook a pragmatic analysis of their situation, because struggle at least makes them feel like their doing something.

    that’s all I’m saying.

  6. Yeah, I agree with you there. I just wanted to draw attention to what, in my experience, the danger of pragmatic analysis is: that it can become a self-perpetuating process that gets in the way of _anything_ being done. If you think about it, pure reason and pure logic can break anything down, and can expose any type of action as inherently meaningless. At some point, I think a “letting go” of detachment and analysis becomes necessary for any type of passion or spirit to guide one’s action. Pragmatic analysis can always find a way to justify doing nothing at all.

  7. well, in an insight practice, you are carefully examining the phenomena for their transitory and unsatisfactory nature, so as to uproot attachment and delusional projections about things you cling to. if you do that long enough, or enough times, or do any kind of insight practice to a point near to fruition, you frequently will get a bliss experience that behaves the same way a concentration state would, which you can solidify through further concentration and whatnot.

    or most people can search their own memories for a point where that sense of release and relief was prominent, and use that feeling memory as the reference point for concentration.

    the end of a job, a relationship, the loss of a family member or friend. that point where grief turns into acceptance and relief. meditating on the feeling of your own powerlessness, or relinquishing the frustration that comes from trying to control everything all the time. etc…

    1. So it’s basically a matter of how you pay attention to something — just holding it in one’s mind vs paying careful attention to sensations?

  8. yeah. the usual way of distinguishing insight from concentration is that insight is about becoming an observer and taking something apart into finer and finer details, while concentration is about pulling everything together into a single overwhelming focus, and merging with it, into varying degree of unitary states

  9. Thanks, this illuminates something I’ve been pondering for a little while, namely how to get into states that have been engendered by insight practice but without actually doing insight, which, as you yourself have pointed out on several occasions, can be quite rough going.

    I suppose I’ve made a big deal of it in my mind because I associated the states with stages in the insight cycle. Some of these states are very, very nice, but I don’t necessarily want to spark off a whole new insight cycle just because I felt like taking a dip in them.

  10. I’ve now practiced “letting go” as a focus for concentration a few times, and you were right, it does pack quite a wallop.

    Also, I’ve been using some feelings that I usually want to try to get away from as foci, and have experienced some heavy duty absorption states as a result of that.

    The thing that strikes me is that doing this — particularly being able to access a bliss state using something that used to be perceived as causing feelings of repulsion — has profound implications for one’s self-image and the way in which one relates to the world. Certainly it constitutes insight in the broader sense. After all, one’s self-image seems to a certain extent to be tied up with what one doesn’t like, and in fact just wants to push as far away as possible. It seems to open up a can of worms similar to that opened up by insight practice, namely that the bottom falls out of pretty much everything previously held to be true. I was just wondering, what is your take on this?

  11. I think you’re pretty much exactly right. the funny thing about ‘negative’ states is, when you strip them of the self talk and hysterical mental projections, the physiology and feeling is essentially the same as what you would frequently call a ‘positive’ state. fear and excitement, for instance.

    and yeah, absolutely, if you were to understand that feeling states are internally generated, and that the world out there doesn’t ‘make’ you feel anything, it pretty much demolishes the cognitive basis of most people’s entire emotional lives.

  12. So I guess that’s why we’ve got sila and the niyamas and yamas — so that doing this stuff doesn’t turn you into the Joker.

  13. it could go either way, depending on how developed you are when the conditioning really starts to break up. that’s why I have some misgivings about these schools that emphasize insight over everything else. moral structures are a stepping stone to building empathy. if you haven’t got the empathy down by the time the structures disintegrate, you aren’t likely to make much headway after that, and will probably degenerate. that’s why some of these enlightened teachers end up coked-out sex fiends dying of AIDS.

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