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Letting go, always letting go

martha and maryIn the first of a series of articles, The Rev. Canon Renée Miller explores Buddhist practice from the perspective of her own Christian faith.

The Dalai Lama says that meditation is the cure for every problem. That seems a bold claim to make. When we consider the various small and large problems in our lives, it doesn’t seem that meditation could resolve them. What can sitting in silence, counting our breaths do about the pain we feel in our bodies, or the fear we experience when we face death, or the lack of purpose we sometimes feel, or even the bread we baked that did not rise as it should have? How is meditation a solution for that?

Meditation actually applies to every problem, no matter how debilitating or simplistic we find the problem to be. These principles can be seen in stories of people that have lived them out. One story in the Christian tradition is about two sisters, Martha and Mary. We don’t know if either of the women was accustomed to meditating, but we do know that when Jesus arrived for dinner Mary was insistent on simply sitting at his feet. She didn’t seem to want to speak or attend to the details of the meal preparations. Martha, on the other hand, was so distracted, so worried about all that needed to be done, so consumed with the problems that loomed before her, that all she could do was complain – certainly not meditate!

 Meditation applies to every problem, no matter how debilitating we find the problem to be.  

Jesus’ response to Martha was that Mary had chosen the best part and it wouldn’t be taken from her. Jesus was saying what the Dalai Lama might have said to Martha — that meditation was the solution for every problem — even cleaning the house, getting the table set, seating the guests, being sure that all the dishes were prepared properly and that conversation flowed with ease.

We are accustomed to dealing with our problems by trying to find solutions to them, or by trying to escape them altogether. On the one hand, we stress, we worry, we plan and strategize, or we get more outside opinions. On the other hand, we turn on the television, take a drink, plan a party, shop, take a trip, surf the Internet. Even though neither approach seems to get us the results we hope for, we feel that we are at least doing something -– even if it’s just stressing about our problem.

I have found in my own tradition that there are two principles of meditation that make it the solution to every problem. First, we learn about letting go. Second, we give up our attachment to the result. The most important of these is the first -– learning to let go. It is counter-intuitive because we are so used to holding on, controlling, making something happen by our own will and action. Letting go takes us out of control, removes the drama around our problem, and leaves us with nothing to stress about or act upon. The good news of that is that it takes us out of control, removes the drama around our problem, and leaves us with nothing to stress about or act upon! In other words, when we sit in meditation and find issues, thoughts, and problems rising in our soul and we simply let them go, we are cutting them loose from us. Because we are no longer attached to them they cease to have power over us.

 Letting go removes the drama around our problems, and leaves us with nothing to stress about  

When we fully accept this, we move into the second principle of not being attached to the result. This is critical because we can separate ourselves from a problem for awhile, but still be seeking a certain resolution to it. When we fully let go of the result, we become as open as curious as children about how things will turn out. We’re no longer so afraid or uncertain. We may take action on our problem, but we are as surprised as anyone else about how it will all unfold.

Meditation helps us learn to let go and helps us practice letting go on a regular basis. It’s really only when we let go that we are able to be detached from what acts on our lives from outside. It’s only when we let go that we experience the freedom of detachment from results.

Letting go is not easy. It’s hard even during the midst of meditation, much less in the hard reality of everyday life. When we’re impatient waiting in line to check out at the grocery store, it’s not easy to let go. When our spouse has misinterpreted something we said, it’s not easy to let go. When our net worth drops yet again, it’s not easy to let go. When our computer doesn’t respond, it’s not easy to let go. When someone hurts us or betrays us, it’s not easy to let go. These are the hard, implacable areas of life – the ones where we tend simply to respond as we’ve always responded. Unfortunately, we continue to get the same results.

Imagine what would happen if we learned to let go. Imagine what would happen if we became detached from results. I believe we would begin to see our souls developing peace and fullness. I believe we would begin to see joy and hope slipping into everything we experienced – even those things that were less than desirable. I believe we would find ourselves becoming braver and bolder.

The divine truth is that the invitation to sit down and breathe is always there. And when we sit down and breathe we are surprised to find ourselves stilled and filled.

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About Renee Miller

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Renee Miller is an Episcopal priest, author, poet, entrepreneur and inquiring mind that wants to know. She has written extensively for www.explorefaith.org, a site for spiritual seekers, and her books, Fertile Soil in a Barren Land, and Daily Vitamins for the Soul (six volumes), are available through Amazon. Visit her at www.soulandsage.com. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from Barbara
Time: October 28, 2009, 9:30 pm

A very thoughtful article> Think the biggest problem I have meditating is the letting go>Thanks for this piece and it will be a huge help for me>

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Comment from Karen Hastings
Time: October 29, 2009, 2:58 pm

This was a fabulous article!It certainly makes SOOOO much sense!!!!Thank you,Renee!

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Comment from Spiritual Healing
Time: October 30, 2009, 7:47 am

My biggest problem too is of letting go. How much ever I try many times just cannot let go of many problems created by my EGO. Wonderful insight. Thanks.

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Comment from Tina
Time: November 20, 2009, 6:32 am

Thanks for this inspiring article. Also, I might add that when we can successfully ‘detach’ ourselves from certain outcomes, there is an effect of ‘breathing easier’.

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Comment from Mary
Time: January 25, 2010, 3:12 am

I can definitely see the parallels in the parameters of this article, written by an Episcopal priest about a Buddhist practice. However, there is a major difference between the Buddhist practice of meditation and a Christian prayer or meditation. Also, I don’t see the practice of meditation as being a solution or application to a problem per sé, but more of a change of vision or attitude–to simply choose not to participate in or acknowledge the situation anymore. Dare I say it can be just a different way to escape one’s problems.

The Buddhist angle of achieving this seems to be to quiet your mind, ushering in a change of perception in your consciousness in order to care less about something stressful. To focus on the peace of a quieted mind. The Christian angle–which acknowledges an Omnipotent, Sovereign, and personal God–would have you take on the action of letting go in a kind of offering to Him. In a sense, offering the feeling of control we think we have, rightly back to God. So, instead of “letting go” and “detaching one’s self from a result,” the Christian sequence would read more like “Trusting God” and “desiring to live within His will for your life.”

As a Christian (if you couldn’t tell already ;) ), I think there is definitely a place for a practice of quieting one’s mind and letting go. However, if the ‘letting go’ is the only place the practice leads, I’d fear the loss of passion and ambition, not to mention the dulling of the sense of justice, for one. When we seek and ask things of God from within in our quieted minds, he will instill in us the discernment for what to care about and work on, and what not to worry about at all. He loves us, and loves when we earnestly seek peace through Him.

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Comment from Chris Brown
Time: February 11, 2010, 10:15 pm

I have been with Mary, and I have been with Martha. Martha walks on the Earth, while Mary lives in the clouds. Martha practices, while Mary imagines. Martha is, while Mary wants to be.

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Comment from Lisa
Time: September 21, 2010, 3:17 pm

This article is exactly what I wanted and needed to hear. Thank you so much. You have answered a critical life question for me, and I will meditate and let go, and relinquish control!

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Comment from Dona leverett
Time: January 16, 2013, 12:36 am

The operative word is Trust…letting go without looking back while acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit working within.

Trust brings peace.

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