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Center for Action and Contemplation

Letting Go with Ease

Friday, April 28, 2023

Buddhist teacher angel Kyodo williams emphasizes how human it is to have desires—and how we can lessen our attachment to them:  

It can give you a headache just thinking about how many times a day your mind goes chasing after some real or imagined desire….  

A desire can appear instantly: BANG! There it is! When we think of not having desires, we’re afraid we will disappear. Why is that?… Because our desires are so persistent and so constant, we think we are our desires. And that shows how really, really attached to them we are….  

None of us escapes desire, and we don’t want to escape. That is not the point. We would just like to stop holding on to them for dear life. We want to see them for what they are. They are cravings. They are desires. They do not own us. They do not need to force us in every possible direction, contorting our bodies to chase down the next thing. I won’t be a captive to my desires, helpless in their power. More important, I won’t make myself miserable because of my attachment to my wants… [1] 

williams offers instructions on the practice of “letting go” of our thoughts, desires, and judgments through mindfulness meditation:  

Letting go means simply releasing the thoughts and ideas that our minds get in the habit of attaching themselves to, including the ideas of yesterday and tomorrow. Letting go is not hard or harsh. We should let it be easy and gradual. Our habitual way of reacting makes us feel as if we have to go on a journey with every thought that comes, or that we have to wrestle them to the ground to control them. That isn’t true at all. None of our actions will be forced or contrived if we keep from grasping at everything that appears in front of us….  

We can see the thoughts that come up in our minds the same way a mirror “sees” things. A mirror just notices. It registers whatever passes in front of it without holding on to it in any way. It just lets go. It doesn’t think about it or have a long conversation about it. Since the mirror doesn’t cling to the object that it is reflecting, when the object goes, so does the reflection. It’s the same way with your mind. We don’t hold on to the random thoughts that arise over and over again in our minds and that can take us away from the full experience of now. We want to be aware only of our breath and nothing else. The moment that we become aware that a thought has taken form, we just relax and allow it to pass. We just notice the thoughts and we return to our breath. If nothing grabs onto the thoughts as they arise, they will keep on moving on, leaving no trace that they were ever there. Let your mind be like the mirror. Clear mirror, clear mind. [2] 


[1] angel Kyodo williams, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace (New York: Viking Compass, 2000), 71, 72.  

[2] williams, Being Black, 160–161, 162–163. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Margi Ahearn, Exercise on Grief and Lamentation. McEl Chevrier, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

I have used the “Daily Meditations” as a contemplative aid for about the last ten years, but the ones for the last three weeks have spoken very directly to my current situation. I retired earlier this month from the job I had for the last twenty-one years. This retirement, while welcomed on one level, was unexpected and largely unplanned. I am now, like Jonah, in the whale’s belly, uncertain where I will land. I have to acknowledge my powerlessness in this situation. In order to find the next step, I have to set aside my “knowledge” and adopt a “beginner’s mind.” The assurance that what is happening is a normal and necessary “death” gives me confidence in God’s resurrection in my life. —Phil K.  

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