Letting Go: Stillness

By: - Aug 07, 2023

As a follow-up to my previous essay on “Sorrow, Fear, and Stillness,” and to reinforce one element of the substance of that writing, I want to discuss what it means to “let go.”

Zen Buddhism uses Koans to teach, short stories posing a question that can not be answered with words, only with actions.  The purpose of this method is to get us out of our heads and, instead, to simply act.  Laozi wrote in the Dao de Qing, Chapter 20:

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.” and in Chapter 22:

“If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”

As any Zen Master will tell you, one can not intellectualize the way to enlightenment.  Thinking, alone, will not get you there.  In the answering of the many Koans used in Zen teaching, no words are necessary.  We allow actions to arise on their own in the moment.

Getting out of your head requires that you let go.  One lets life come to them, and we enter each moment of it with our “before thinking mind,” free from judgment.  Doing so allows us to see the moment simply as it is – neither good nor bad – requiring only that we act on it in whatever way appears correct.  Instinctive, organic, in the flow.

I am a Boston Celtics fan.  Always have been, always will be.  Larry Bird was the greatest player I ever saw.  When he played, he was always “in the flow.”  When he got the ball, he did not stop to think what the right thing to do was, as he was always aware of the court: if the shot was the right action, he took the shot; and, if passing was the right action, he passed it.  Instinctive, organic, in the moment, in the flow.

He was not born that way.  He practiced, he watched, he listened to his coaches, from an early age.  He honed his basketball instincts to such an extent he could see several moves ahead at all times, and quickly.  When he walked onto the court, he became the game just like the dancer becomes the dance, woven fully into the game’s fabric.

This is how life is to be lived.  Letting go to be in the flow, trusting our instincts, listening to our inner voice.  As I have written before, one of my Zen Masters would so often say to me:  “You already know the answer, Michael.  Act on it.”

This is the spiritual path we must walk, to be fully present in our own life, accepting ourselves as we are, and walking our path with toughness and determination.  We come to trust that we will be sent what we need, opportunities to incorporate into our lives, whether by God, by creation, by the Great Dao, no matter your belief, and our job is to be fully present in each moment so we can recognize them.  All that is required after that is to act on them.

None of that will happen, though, unless and until we let go.  Of what, you ask?  Everything, I say.  Judgments, biases, predispositions, everything.  Only then can we truly see each moment as containing endless possibilities; only then can we be fully present in each moment, hyper-vigilant, hyper-alert, and trusting in our instinctive and organic responses.

How do you do that, you ask?  By cultivating stillness, I say.  For us, we who lived as monks at my Daoist temple in China, it was through “sitting still, doing nothing,” as we came to call meditation, and by playing taiji every day.  We sat for 2-3 hours every night, and played taiji every day.  We turned inward, quieting ourselves so we could hear our inner voice and notice the magic of creation that surrounds us.

That stillness brought us into the present moment awareness where we wanted to live.  It still does for me.  We let go of the notion that we could control life, and accepted the truth that we could control only our response to it.  We came to accept  ourselves as we were, noting the “warts” that needed to be removed as we walked the spiritual path we had chosen.  We came to realize we had and have nothing to prove to anyone except ourselves.  We came to be both the observer and the observed in our life.

This is letting go, and it comes from the stillness we cultivate.

The Law Of The Heart, an ancient scroll, speaks of the Three Treasures:  The Way, The Teacher, and The Scripture. Each plays an important role along the spiritual path we walk.

For help in understanding the Dao de Qing, the Law of The Heart, the 49 Barriers to true stillness, there is the teacher.  A true teacher teaches by actions, and teaches what she/he lives, and will nudge you in the direction of a path.  Please notice I wrote “a path” rather than “the path.”  We are all climbing the same mountain, each taking our own path to the top.  Everyone walks their own chosen path.

Stillness leads to letting go, letting go leads to clarity, and clarity leads to present moment awareness, that full engagement with life that we all seek.  When the ball comes to you, and if you are in the flow of life, you won’t need to think what to do with it.  Take the shot or make the pass, whichever in the flow of your life is the correct response.