Letting go, in small ways and big


One way to catch monkeys–or so I once saw in a documentary–is apparently to dig a hole in the ground just big enough for a relaxed monkey hand to go in and just small enough for a monkey fist not to come out.

Then you put some goodies in the hole and wait. The monkey then catches itself. It sticks its hand in, grabs the goodies, makes a fist and refuses to let go, even as it sees the hunters casually sauntering up to take it in.

Primates, in short, have a problem with letting go, and that’s how this relates to The Hannibal Blog‘s current thread on stuff. I rarely, these days, find anyone prepared to argue that clutter/stuff is a good thing. Nor, however, do I know a lot of people who have actually done anything about it. It may be that I hang out primarily with primates.

It’s our (ie, primates’) loss, because this not letting go is what makes us so miserable. That’s true in the context of physical stuff piling up, but also of mental clutter.

The Dalai Lama, at the end of this conversation, says that

True happiness doesn’t mean trying to acquire things, so much as
letting go of things.

Not coincidentally, therefore, a primary meditation technique consists of trying to let thoughts go. You sit still and observe dispassionately what pops into your mind. You don’t try to suppress bad, mean, nasty, stupid thoughts, because that would only make them come more–eg, you would feel guilty and angry about not ceasing to feel guilty and angry.

Instead, you “label” the thoughts (‘Aha, anger again.’) and then let them pass out, replaced by whatever comes next.

It’s quite surprising how much crap shows up this way. Even more surprising is that after a while of doing that, the parade of thoughts slows down. Eventually, it might even come to complete stillness, which is how Patanjali defines yoga (union). At that point, you have indeed let go.

So: stuff, clutter, things, illusions, attachments: it’s all there to be let go. Unfortunately we have evolved to hold on to it. Hence passion, literature, civilization, stories … and misery.

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