Let go or hold on? Follow-up to Buddhist alternatives

In an earlier post I brought up a Buddhist proverb that packed a lot of food for thought into a very little package with the admonition, “Let go or be dragged.”

I mentioned that there were probably other ways to look at the subject, and invited contributions in the comments. Ted (full disclosure: best friend from high school) brought up the idea that our values might dictate times when we choose to be dragged: to prevent the bad guy from getting away, à la Indiana Jones, or in defense of something or someone we choose to protect, as in “this is a hill I’m willing to die on.”

Before I offer some thoughts, I can’t resist setting the stage (or creating a side trip) with some song lyrics. I’m sure there are many, many songs that use the line, but here are the first ones to come up in my head:

There’s Martha’s counsel from The Secret Garden:

And clearly, Mary had to hold on so that Collin would get better, and because Dr. Craven was doing such an admirable, understated job with the villain role.

And there’s this track from my favorite rock group growing up:

I don’t know what most of the lyrics are talking about, but I love a line like “How we drown in stylistic audacity,” whatever it means.

And then there’s this one, likely more mainstream than my progressive rock offering above:


We’re promised that with “No hesitation and no holding back, let it all go and you’ll know you’re on the right track.”

With those songs in our heads, let’s think about holding on and letting go. Apparently, we need to be discerning. We need to be able to tell if the option in front of us is somethng that will drag us, or something that will save us.

From my own LDS faith tradition, a founding story involves a dream in which the prophet and his followers must hold fast to a railing, a rod of iron, in order to arrive at a great tree whose fruit is sweet above all that is sweet, symbolizing the love of God.

We might try sorting things into two categories. First, things we should hold on to:

convictions, principles, faith, hope and charity

And things we should let go of:

grudges, resentments, prejudices, blind spots, delusions

Of course, what some people feel is an important conviction to hold onto, others might see as a corrosive prejudice or delusion that needs to be let go of. “Hold onto your Confederate money–The South will rise again!” was a rallying cry of long duration.

Becoming skilled in this kind of sorting seems entirely worth our best efforts.

I close with another thought on a kind of letting go that is said to have far-reaching advantages. Here’s an excerpt from an article by Rebekah Barnett on the work of Amishi Jha, outlining the practice of “Open monitoring.”

“Open monitoring helps you learn to pay attention to what’s happening around you without becoming attached to it. This practice is not about paying attention to a particular object or objects. Instead, it’s about remaining open to any experience — internal or external — that arises, and allowing it to wash over you. ‘You don’t process it, you don’t think about it,’ Jha says. ‘You just notice its occurrence and allow it to dissipate.’ To do this, sit in a comfortable, upright position and try to be aware of any sensations, thoughts or emotions that emerge, without holding on to them. It might help you to label what comes up by using words like planning, worrying, judging, remembering. You can do this silently or out loud. After you name it, let it go. Think of what you’re doing as like watching clouds move in the sky and observing the different shapes they make — but in this practice, you’re watching your thoughts travel through your mind.”

This sort of mental exercise is said to help us become less distractible, which we probably all need. It’s a sort of letting go I don’t feel very familiar with. I have a tendency to attach emotions and meaning to things that definitely don’t deserve them, so this will be a challenge.

Here’s to letting go and holding on, and figuring out when to do which!

[Image: Gabriel Villena Fernández at Wikipedia]

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