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Learning to Let Go is Hard

In today's world, we are often taught to measure our success through accumulation of wealth and possessions. We want all the newest tech gadgets, and the latest fashions. But, does the desire to have more ever reach an end point and bring us fulfillment? What is 'winning' in capitalism? Becoming a billionaire?

These often unattainable dreams of material success can often lead to disappointment, FOMO, and a feeling like we have failed. Looking at influencers online, or pictures of Jeff Bezos on his yacht can leave us feeling disenchanted with our own lives, even when things are going well.

We are taught in Western culture from a young age that we need to hustle, work hard, and build a good life for ourselves. But at a certain point in life, many of us begin to question whether being in the rat race of corporate America is ever going to make us happy.

The thing is, our culture of consumerism isn't even designed to make us happy. It is designed to leave us always feeling a sense of want, like we need just one more thing to finally complete our lives. Then, we get that thing, and something new comes out. It is a never ending cycle fueled by big business, corporate greed, and incessant advertising that is thrown at us everywhere we go.

A different path to happiness

The good news is, there is a different path to happiness than what we have been taught all our lives. There is a way to break free from FOMO and the constant desire for more that leaves us feeling constantly in want of something new. Life wasn't always this way. Throughout most of history, things were built to last, instead of to break after a couple of years and leave us constantly consuming.

When I was a kid, we played this game at sleepovers called the blanket game. Each participant takes turns lying under a blanket, and then one of your friends tells you, "There is something on you that you don't need, take it off." So, you take off your shoes, your shirt, maybe your pants or your bra. Then finally you realize that the answer was more simple than you thought. The thing you are supposed to be taking off is the blanket.

Once you realize the simplicity of the answer, it seems sort of obvious.

Then, you bring in the next kid waiting in the hall to play the game, and see how long it takes them to realize they are supposed to take off the blanket.

Life is sort of like that too. Most of the things we have accumulated throughout our lives aren't things we actually need. You can live without the newest iPhone, the biggest flatscreen, even a dishwasher or a car. Maybe at first living without makes you feel stressed. But after a while, once you start to give things up, you realize you can minimize even more.

There's something on you that you don't need, take it off.

That mantra has been going through my head for the last few months, and I am coming to realize more and more that so many of the things we become attached to in life aren't actually necessary. I've been living in AirBNB's for a couple of months now without TV. At first, I watched on my laptop. Lately, I have been checking out books at the public library instead.

You can live just fine without most of the things you have accumulated. You can do the Marie Kondo thing, and ask yourself if each thing brings you joy. Or, you can ask yourself when was the last time you used something and get rid of it if it's been a year or more. There are tons of ways to minimize.

Be the open hand

If you study Buddhism, you will realize that the concept of minimalism and letting go of things you don't need isn't new. Buddhist Monks don't own things. They go out every morning with a begging bowl to ask for food in the city. Or, they take donations at the temple. They shave their heads.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

The idea of letting go of things in order to be happy can seem pretty counterintuitive to most of us. We hold onto the people we love, our jobs, our homes, our possessions, and our ideas about why the world is the way it is. In order to be truly happy, truly free from the wheel of Samsara and suffering, we have to learn to let go.

Why do we hold onto things? The simplest explanation is that we hold onto things because we think we will need them in the future. We accumulate things because we are afraid that if we don't, we will be left going without.

Here's a simple example: When we go to the grocery store, we often will buy extra sale items, like canned food that we can save, or meat that we can freeze for later. While doing this isn't inherently a bad thing, really, what we are doing is stocking up for the future. We are planning ahead for a time when we may go without if we don't buy something now. Remember all the people hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of COVID? It's like that.

When we hold things aside for tomorrow, we are living in the future instead of the present. We are allowing anxiety and fear control us, instead of mindfully being present in the moment, and enjoying today to the fullest.

Being more mindful in the present, instead of living in the past with regret, or the future with fear, allows us to be grateful and happy with what we have right now.

Whether you have money in your bank account or food in your cupboard or not, you are alive right now. Right now, in this present moment, you are whole and complete. You aren't in a state of lack. You are safe.

The more we come to practice mindfulness in the present moment, the more peace and joy we begin to feel. We look around us and take joy in the beautiful sunshine, a flower, the smile of a loved one. Noticing with present awareness and without judgment allows us to be fully alive in this moment. For in truth, this present moment is all we ever really have.

Learning to live life with an open hand means we release our clinging and grasping.

According to Chicago Meditation,

Non-attachment, then, is really an antidote to the attachment/clinging problem described in the Second Noble Truth. If attachment/clinging is a condition of finding life unsatisfactory, it stands to reason that non-attachment is a condition conducive to satisfaction with life, a condition of nirvana.
It is important to note, though, that the Buddhist advice is not to detach from the people in your life or from your experiences, but rather to simply recognize the non-attachment that is inherent to begin with…
When we reject the illusion that we have a “self” that exists separately and independently from other people and phenomena, we suddenly recognize that there is no need to detach, because we have always been interconnected with all things at all times.

It takes time to learn to live with an open hand; to let go of the things we don't need. But it started for me with the realization that right now, right here in this moment, I am whole and complete. I don't really 'need' all the things I thought I did. In fact, I am learning to live without things day by day, and as time passes I don't even miss them anymore.

Letting go is frightening. But, it becomes easier when we learn to recognize that the very idea of 'needing' something is just a fear about going without something at some future time. It comes from an idea of scarcity of resources, a sense of lack, and the capitalist idea of having 'stuff' in order to be successful.

Learning to live with an open hand, in the Buddhist way, comes with recognizing that everything is transient. Things come and go. No matter how much we try to prepare for the future, we may have missed something. So, by releasing the very idea of need itself, we are able to live in wholeness and peace.

In order to find the path to freedom and peace, we can live in a different way. We can let go of the idea that we have to be 'successful' in society's terms, and instead learn to be happy in each moment.

If you are interested in beginning a Buddhist path toward mindfulness and joy in your own life, the Buddha has laid out the blueprint to do so. It is called the 8-fold path. It outlines a series of principles that you can incorporate into your life to achieve freedom, peace and enlightenment.

To learn more about Buddhist principles, and how you can easily incorporate them into your daily life, check out my ebook: Practicing Buddhism in Everyday Life.

Be well, my lovelies! I hope that soon I will find you walking on the pathway towards peace in your own life.


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