One of the four noble truths of Buddhism tells us that the root of all suffering is attachment. It is a profoundly simple concept. Yet many assume that this truth is about attachment to physical things. However, we also form attachments to abstract notions: we can cling to our egos, to our desires, to conceptions of how we think life should be. Arguably, attachment to such intangibles causes far more anguish. Notions, after all, are not tangible: they only exist as thoughts, urges, and feelings. And yet, we are convinced they are real.
The key… is to let go.
While different spiritual texts offer specific instructions on letting go, the desire to be free from painful thoughts or urges don’t belong to any specific tradition. Here, we offer relatable thoughts for letting go.
Learn to Accept
Sometimes we suffer because we want life to be different: happiness could be ours if only things would change to our liking. But life has no set path and we wouldn’t necessarily be any happier if it suddenly went our way. Learning to accept things as they are is a way to let go of unmet desires. Keep in mind that acceptance doesn’t mean settling. Rather, acceptance is acknowledging reality as it is, rather than what you think it should be. It is noticing what you do and don’t have control over.
We take comfort in the familiar, and predictability assures us we are safe. But change is inevitable. If one learns to acclimate to the changes that come along, we free ourselves from an attachment to the status quo. Embracing change doesn’t mean abandoning what’s important to you. It’s about knowing the difference between what helps ground you and what simply weighs you down as you are confronted with new circumstances. Shedding the old weight of something that no longer fits into a new life can help you move forward.
Modify Your Expectations
Disappointment comes when we anticipate too much from any particular decision or life event. We grow upset when we realize that life has not conformed to what we expected. We mourn for a future and a life that never was. Modifying your expectations can keep you from becoming attached to a preconceived vision that is not guaranteed.
To do things mindfully is to bring our awareness and attention to the task at hand. When you perform your daily tasks slowly and mindfully, you let go of the distractions and the emotions that keep you fixated on everything but the here and now. Mindfulness can allow it so that you are no longer attached to what is going on in your head (be it sad, stressful, or confusing). Instead, you only observe what is in front of you. Mindfulness is by no means easy, but many find that it gets easier over time through meditation and mindfulness exercises.