I’m confident in my ability to let go of my mind and my thoughts during meditation, but the idea of doing this in the midst of daily life scares me. In theory, I really like the idea of living in the unknown, but I have a job and a social life that require me to use my mind. How does one fully let go of the mind while still functioning in society?
That’s a great question. First, I’d like to answer your question with a question: What do you think would happen to your mind if you let go of it? I find this to be a useful thought experiment because many of us have this irrational, though completely natural, fear of letting go of the mind.
Human beings, for the most part, have an unquestioned assumption that if we let go of clinging to this thing called the mind, something bad will happen to it or it will cease to function or even disappear. There’s a subtle belief that if we don’t obsessively hold on to our minds, we might go insane, or become some kind of vegetable.
This fear is completely natural. For most of us, our minds completely dominate our reality. Most of us identify so strongly with our compulsive thought stream, it’s as if it’s wrapped around our faces and we can’t see the world other than through our thoughts. There is no direct contact with reality. We may have moments when our thoughts cease temporarily, but then they come back and we’re lost in the mind once again.
The mind, for most of us, is our fundamental source of identification. It’s reality. That’s just what the human condition is at this point in our collective evolution. And so we’re terrified of the reality that lies beyond it, because we’ve never really dared to peer beyond the veil of our mind.
So when I’m talking about letting go of the mind, I’m really talking about letting go of this deep and unbroken attachment to it. We’re letting go of our identification with the mind.
What we discover through meditation (or through any process of real awakening) is that we are not our thoughts. We can pay attention to them, or even be interested in them, but we are not mistakenly believing that we are them.
When we stop identifying with the mind, we find that it continues to function as it always has. We’re just not lost in it. We realize that the mind continues its cyclical patterns regardless of whether we give it any attention. Even when we’ve completely disidentified with the mind and lost interest in it, it carries on.
Ultimately, we want to get to the place where we experience a fundamental liberation from the mind. At that point, a really mysterious thing happens. We begin to realize we’re not the mind after all. In fact, we see that we’re not even creating our thoughts. The mind is doing its own thing. It’s like a machine. We can pay attention to it. We can be interested in it. We can give energy and attention to it. Or we can simply let it carry on. Regardless of whether we give it attention or not, it just keeps doing the same thing.
If you’ve ever done an extended meditation retreat, this mechanistic nature of mind becomes very clear. After you’ve been meditating consistently for four or five days, you start to see that the mind follows a cyclical pattern. You see how mechanical it is. It just keeps doing its thing. It has a life of its own. And you learn to just let it keep doing its thing.
Relating to our minds in this way requires us to let go of the need to know and embrace the unknown. We have to let go of our need for certainty. We have to stop trying to control our minds.
Living in the unknown can be scary, but there’s a very beautiful and mysterious dimension to it. When you’re not attached to your mind, or clinging onto it, or trying to control it, you find that your mind starts to function in a completely different way.
A mysterious creative process starts to emerge within you. You start to have insights that seem to come from nowhere. You find a kind of spontaneous wisdom coming from your lips that you didn’t invent. It’s not you that’s forming the wisdom. It’s coming from somewhere mysterious that you can’t even know.
When you stop trying to control your mind, you start to function in a more natural, fluid way. Life just flows. You find this confidence to walk into difficult, high-stakes situations completely open, innocent, and empty-handed. You begin to trust that what you need to know will show up and that the energy you need to meet the challenge will arise.
This is where living a life of faith really comes into play. Letting go of your mind, in a sense, means having faith that there’s a greater consciousness, or intelligence, or power and energy force that will show up within you, when you need it.
It’s important to note that the openness I’m talking about isn’t naïveté. I’m not suggesting you have the innocence of a little baby who doesn’t really know anything and relies entirely on outside forces. This is a mature innocence where everything we know and everything we have learned remains available to us. It’s just that we’re not holding on to any of it.
This way of relating to your mind might sound simple, but it represents a categorical shift in how human beings operate. It runs completely counter to the way we’re conditioned, which makes it difficult to put into practice. And unfortunately, there’s no quick trick for how to get there.
But you can begin to cultivate your interest in going beyond the mind. You can actively practice letting go of the mind. You can start relinquishing your need to know and seeing what happens. For example, if you have an important meeting to attend and you find yourself trying to premeditate your responses before the meeting starts, it’s a good time to stop yourself and recognize that you’re trying to control the situation. Bring yourself back to your intention, and decide to just show up to the meeting, innocent and fresh. I’m confident that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
The more you do this, even in small situations, the more you’ll experience how much better things tend to work out when you dare to let go. You’ll see how holding on too tightly and trying to control outcomes just doesn’t work as well as being open and fluid and innocent.
You’ll start to see your feeble attempts to control your mind as a profound limiting factor on the glorious potential of this human life which could be so magical and amazing if you lived in this more innocent, open and fluid way. And this will inspire in you a deep burning intention to let go.
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