Let the Dharma Do You!
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“To truly be in the moment, to not be defined by expectation, requires mindful clarity; a heart conditioned by love, compassion, and empathetic joy for others; and equanimity that allows you to receive life however it unfolds. This can inspire and orient you in how to live in the moment. You simply lay aside your expectations as best as you are able. You may be surprised when you discover how much choice you have in letting go of expectations. When you do this, you are showing up for what you value and discovering a sense of joy and ease that is independent of the conditions in your life.” – Phillip Moffitt
In mindfulness meditation, we are instructed to let go of trying to control our experience and instead let things be as they are. This seems like a simple instruction until it begins to dawn on us that the act of letting go is itself an attempt to control experience. We, in essence, try to control not controlling! But, if we let go of this control, then experience is taken over by our naturally controlling mind. It would appear that there is no solution, we are caught in a trap. This seemingly makes it impossible to comply with the instruction to let go of trying to control our experience. How can we possibly follow the teaching (Dharma)?
When we enter into meditation our first task is to focus our attention. The focus can be on the breath, a mantra, the body, etc., regardless we attempt to hold this single thing in our attention. This is obviously not letting go as we’re consciously exerting control on our attention. But it’s a step in the right direction, as we’re attempting to occupy our minds so that thoughts, memories, and plans are less likely than usual to enter consciousness. It will be readily recognized by all who have attempted meditation that this is devilishly difficult to do. Inevitably and frequently the mind wanders away and thoughts, memories, and plans flood into consciousness. What we discover is that the harder we try to control this and prevent our minds from wandering, the more and more they tend to. As Adyashanti likes to say, “if you go to war with your mind, you’ll be at war forever.”
So, what are we to do? The answer is ridiculously simple. We need to patiently let the Dharma do us. The key is not to try to control the mind, but to simply relax and let the mind settle. As we practice meditation, we can notice that over time, our concentration gets better and better and mind wandering occurs less and less. This is a slow process and may take months or years to be at the level that’s noticeable. But, if we simply relax and try to focus our attention, it will occur. One of the keys is to not get upset when we fail and the mind wanders. We need to just patiently relax and recognize that the mind is simply doing what it was designed to do. Be OK with that. Rather we should congratulate ourselves when we return to the focus of the meditation. Recognize what a miracle it is that we’ve let go of the mind wandering. Take note that letting go occurred spontaneously. We actually didn’t have to do anything. If we just relax, letting go will spontaneously happen. This is allowing the teachings (Dharma) do us.
Now, in the course of meditation, every once in a while, our mind settles, and we become simply an observer of the sensations occurring in the present moment. This may only occur for a very short time, perhaps seconds, but occasionally it will spontaneously occur. Once again, we should congratulate ourselves that we truly let go. Don’t let judgement and recriminations creep in that it couldn’t be maintained. Simply revel in the fact that letting go spontaneously occurred. Simply, meditate without attempting to produce it, control it, or hold onto it. Just simply note when it spontaneously happens, recognize it, and enjoy it. There’s nothing more to it. We’re just letting the process do us.
The peace and serenity we feel during the periods of letting go, even brief ones, will reinforce the process and make it more likely to occur again in the future. It simply feels good to experience such silence and peace. Our natural hedonic instincts to seek pleasure will take over. Slowly, perhaps taking months or years, the periods of letting go will become longer and more frequent. As long as we don’t try to control them but simply let them happen and then don’t try to hold onto them, the normal natural process will happen. As we let this occur, peace, silence, and serenity become stronger and stronger and the minds attempts to control it becomes weaker and weaker. We begin to spend more and more time in our meditation in just being, in a state of relaxed joyful awareness.
This is not a linear process. We can do this well one week and terribly the next. Don’t get discouraged, the process will unfold and the good weeks will become more and more frequent and have more and longer periods of serenity and the bad weeks will have less and less and shorter periods of mind wandering. Think of the process as being like a roller coaster that is positioned on a gradual upward slope. Understanding this will help to prevent discouragement. Just know that you are moving up the slope.
It has to be reiterated, that you don’t have to do anything for this to occur. In fact, the more you try to do, the less success you will have. Simply set up the conditions for success, regular meditation, and it will happen on its own as the Dharma does us.
“Letting go isn’t an immediate phenomenon. It is a process. Craving to let go and attaching to the idea that we will be happy once we let go of this one thing is harmful. We have to let it happen. Bring your awareness to the experience of aversion and impermanence. Bring your awareness to the craving to be rid of it. Letting go is a practice in allowing space for our experience.” – Elizabeth Key-Comis
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch