Letting go is amazing. It is part of the art of generosity, which is a very powerful and remarkable skill.
It is extraordinarily effective in changing our thought patterns, our emotions and the energies within our vital body, which affects our health and well-being. But it is an art. The skill in this art is acquired; some of it was almost certainly present when we were small children but for most of us a great deal of it has been knocked out of us or overshadowed by daily living. Western society has many strengths but one of its major drawbacks is the acquisitive style of life that it encourages. Life conditions us to want things for ourselves and so the natural innocence that gives rise to spontaneous giving is often absent. But that trend can be reversed and when we start to develop the generous spirit within us, a state of joyousness naturally arises.
Letting go is the first stage. The acquisitive style of life, which encourages us to accumulate and hang onto things, gives us an energy pattern of “holding on”. That holding on might be in relation to possessions or money or to circumstances or relationships. It can also be in relation to less tangible things such as our time, our love, our caring and so on. Holding on, or failing to give wholeheartedly, actually deprives us of energy and quality of life. It prevents us from contacting our own nature. Instead of bringing happiness, our attachment brings stagnation into our energy system. It also gives birth to the fear of loss.
Letting go of tension
Just for a moment, imagine holding something in your hand that someone is trying to take it from you. Notice how the tension in your hand increases as you tighten your grip. Conversely, if you want to give away whatever it is you are holding, notice the relaxation that comes. And did you notice that the tension wasn’t just in the hand? It is impossible to grip the hand without causing tension up the whole arm. Mentally it is not much different. The sense of anxiety that can build up when we fear losing something causes a tension that runs right through us. It is no coincidence that the words “miserliness” and “miserable” come from the same Latin root meaning “wretched”.
Now, when we give something, we have the opportunity to release mental and emotional tension. If we give easily, our energy will feel lighter because our heart centre will be freer. We just let go of whatever it is we have and, if we do it with loving kindness, we give it a little helpful push on the way. We then have more energy; we feel better. It might seem odd but the more we give, the better off we are.
But we have to give well. By that, I mean if we give begrudgingly or with reservation, we hold something back. There will be some benefit but not as much. If we hold back when we give, it is like letting something go out of our hand but there is till some tension in our grip. Similarly, if we give something with expectation of recognition or of thanks, there is some tension in that giving. We are not giving wholeheartedly because we have added a condition to it – there is a subtle acquisitiveness to our giving and so it isn’t selfless.
An art that is part of Zen
That is why generosity is an art. We have to re-educate ourselves into becoming totally generous human beings. We need to learn to give unconditionally. As we do so, our happiness increases as the “petals of the heart lotus” open, letting in the sunshine of our true nature. But it takes considerable training for most of us. If we are honest, we might be good at giving some things but certainly not at giving others.
Letting go fearlessly is part of Zen. Zen tells us that there is nothing to hold onto, that no loss is possible. The giver, the recipient and the act of giving are one. But we are not enlightened yet, so we take one step at a time. Learning to release our grip is the first step. Observing when we resist is the second.
Adapted excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Great Little Book of Happiness
Evening workshop on Monday 11th April 2016 in Staffordshire, UK – more details here