“Renunciation is not giving up the things of the world, but accepting that they go away.” ~Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Meditation is a practice in letting go. In meditation ten thousand things arise, and we let them be. A kaleidoscopic cacophony of sensations, thoughts, and reveries arise and vanish — fleeting specters in the Cartesian Theater of the mind. We have hopes and expectations for what each moment of meditation will be like: “I will stay alert, focused, calm, and peaceful.” “My meditation space will be quiet and comfortable.” “I will learn something… make progress… taste Enlightenment.” Our practice is to continually let go of these hopes and expectations and let the ten thousand things be as they are. We effortlessly open to each moment, accepting each moment as it is, embracing it, experiencing it fully.
Why practice letting go? Polly Young-Eisendrath made the following point about practicing mindfulness, but it applies to letting go as well:
“The reason for learning… is not so that you can sit around and meditate. It’s like when you learn to drive a car in a parking lot. It’s not so you can drive that car in parking lots. You learn in the parking lot because it’s a restricted, safe area. When you [meditate] it’s like learning to drive in the parking lot. Then, in time, you take the car out onto the highway…. Practice is cultivated in order to get around in life….”
We meditate in order to learn how to let go in our daily lives. We need to learn how to let go because trying to hold onto anything is like trying to nail jello to a wall: Nothing sticks, nothing stays. When David Chadwick asked Suzuki Roshi to express the heart of Buddhism in just a few words, Roshi replied “Everything changes.” (If David had asked him another time, would he have gotten a different answer?) We can’t hold onto a world that’s constantly changing and transforming — we can’t make the world stop being the world.