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How to Let Go of Attachments and Find More Ease

Ocean - Letting Go of Attachments

Human beings face two causes of death: untimely death and death due to exhaustion of their natural life span.  Untimely death can be averted through the methods taught for prolonging life.  However, when the cause of death is the exhaustion of the natural life span, you are like a lamp which has run out of oil.  There is no way of averting death by cheating it; you have to get ready to go. – Padmasambhava

I know!  Death is probably the last thing you want to hear or think about.  But honestly, accepting impermanence and death is the best way to learn to live fully in each precious moment given to us.  That doesn’t mean dying will be easy, but it could be easier.

The ability to meet death with an open heart depends, however, upon letting go of all your attachments.

Yes, every single one!  You have to let go of everything when you die.  Your possessions, your relationships, your work, and your body all get left behind no matter how deeply you cherish them now.

Can you imagine that?

In one sense, I can’t.  I can’t envision that final letting go of everything dear to me, knowing none of it will ever be seen, heard, touched, or tasted again.

Just like most people, I’m embroiled in all the comings and goings of my daily life.  Even though I know better, I sometimes take it all to be so real, important, and lasting.  But I know it’s not.  I believe this delusion pervades humanity and leads to so much unnecessary suffering and distress.  This is not the way to find peace, contentment, or ease.

Instead of shrinking from impermanence, maybe embracing it as the natural cycle of life would bring more ease. [Click to Tweet]

How can we do this?  How can we get accustomed to impermanence and let go of the long string of attachments that keep us tightly earthbound?

Let’s examine some of the common attachments – to this life, this body, our possessions, and our relationships – and consider how we might be able to lighten them bit by bit.

Softening the Fear of Death

Perhaps, first and foremost, we have to come to terms with our fear of death, which represents our attachment to this life.  I believe – in one part of my being – that death is simply the shedding of this body and a doorway into the next realm. But, this hasn’t yet fully penetrated my psyche nor completely erased my fear.

I know it’s a matter of retraining my mind to see myself as spirit or subtle consciousness that continues on and on.  So now, when I reflect on death, I try to consider it positively, as an opportunity to be free of the constraints of the body and to recognize the essence of my mind.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.  – Richard Bach

If you fear death, how can you re-frame your view in a positive way?

Remembering Impermanence

It may sound counter-intuitive, but remembering impermanence each day can infuse your life with gratitude, help you to get your priorities straight, and ensure that you’re seeing reality as it is.  Remembering impermanence is another way to diffuse your fear of death.

When you wake up in the morning, think of what a miracle it is to be alive.  Did you know that neurotransmitters speed along at hundreds of miles per hour?  That’s one example of the beautiful complexity of the body, an extraordinary gift that works endlessly for you each and every day.

And, that’s just for a start!  Just take a look around you and I think you’ll find another miracle or two.

Take time to reflect on impermanence each day by observing the signs of change all around you:  birth, death, night dawning into day, the movement of the seasons, the constantly changing circumstances at home, at work, or in your town.  These types of transitory phenomena exemplify gross impermanence.  They can remind you that life moves on so there’s no time to waste.  Reflect on this often, not once in a blue moon.

On a subtle level, molecules and their parts constantly move about even in the structures we consider so solid like tables, rocks, and walls.

Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles.  The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing to mass.  Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality.  – Gary Zukav

When you go to sleep at night, be grateful once again.  Then, like the great spiritual masters of the past, turn your cup over each evening – literally or metaphorically – as a sign that tomorrow is uncertain and you’re aware of that.

Letting Go of Your Possessions

If you cling to your possessions now, think of what it will be like when you come close to death.  Will you be ready to let go of your house, your car, and your pretty clothes?  Or will you be obsessed about what will happen to them?

You need to take care of yourself on the material plane, but how far must you go?  Yes, it’s more expensive to live and even die in this modern world.  But you don’t need a 5 or 6 figure income; that’s usually just ego in disguise.  All the excess money and possessions probably won’t matter much as you’re laying on your deathbed reflecting on your life.

That’s when enduring love will be your most important aid, serving as a cloak that protects and nourishes you as you say good-bye and move from this life into whatever might be next.

Strive for simplicity if you wish to live and die with more ease.  Practice giving away your possessions and make donations whenever you can.  If you need help to accomplish this, read Be More with Less.

Reducing Attachment to Your Body

Please take care of your body, but don’t get fanatical about it.  Although the body can be a vehicle for profound transformation, it’s still the subtle awareness that continues on after death.  Even though we work with body movement, my Tai Chi teacher always reminds us that the mind is the emperor and the body its subject.

Most of us immediately identify with the body as “me,” but is that really so?  The “body scan” is one method that can help you realize that your presumably solid constitution is none other than constantly changing sensations and madly moving molecules.  When you take a look, there’s no permanent “you” to be found.

Sit quietly and slowly scan your body like a photocopier from head to toe.  Notice each sensation as you gradually move from one spot to the next.  They’re ever-changing, aren’t they, not a permanent or fixed state of affairs.  The more you lightly scan your body, the more you’ll come to sense its changeability.  Eventually, you’ll stop believing it’s the permanent you.  Read more about the body scan:  Be Still, Be Well: A Simple Practice of Mindfulness.

As the great spiritual master Milarepa said,

This thing called ‘corpse’ we dread so much is living with us here and now.

If you’re not your body, what are you then?  That’s an excellent question for contemplation.

Love Fully Right Now

Although I’ve written many articles on love and attachment and the cosmic joke about love -and I believe these ideas – I’m still human just like you.  I don’t want to be separated from my husband, family, or friends.  But, I know it’s inevitable.

One of the best ways to reduce attachment to those in your intimate circle is to love as fully as you can in every moment.  Then, you’re more likely to feel complete and without regrets when the time comes to let go.

As the eminent 19th century spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche recommended, consciously avoid anger, quarrels, and harsh words in your relationships. Since we never know how much time we have left to be together, don’t squander it in fights.  Instead, put all your heart into being affectionate, loving, and attentive knowing any minute could be your last time with one another.

What could be a more fulfilling practice than to love?

Let Go of Thoughts and Emotions Too

We hang onto thoughts and emotions as if they constituted reality.  But, in fact, they just bring you suffering and distress if you repeat them endlessly in your head.

Don’t suppress thoughts or emotions either.  That will just lead to an unhealthy state in body, mind, and soul.   Instead, let them rise to the surface, where they can be healed with awareness and love.  Allow them to come and go, recognizing they’re not the real you.

Letting go of thoughts and emotions will become easier when you understand their fundamental unreality.  This will help prepare your mind to peacefully move from this existence to the next. If you don’t ready yourself for that climatic moment by working with your mind now, you might get stuck in a hubbub of emotional intensity just when it matters the most.  That will only make you suffer more instead of helping you let go.

In fact, some people become more attached as they near death.  They linger in discomfort and fear, clinging to this life with tightly clenched fists.  Is that how you want to be?

This is why it’s so important to start getting ready for death now.  Letting go doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process you must initiate consciously.  It’s a practice you must institute regularly.

This doesn’t mean dying is necessarily easy.  But if you would like to meet death with more perspective and more grace and also live with more contentment in the present, start loosening some of your attachments now.  For most of us, learning to let go is a life long journey so it’s never too soon to begin.

What are your thoughts about attachment and letting go?  I would love to hear.

P. S.  Too much stress?  Check out my self-paced e-course:  Living with Ease, the Mindful Way to Stress.  The course offers a complete roadmap for dissolving stress and ensuring it doesn’t overwhelm you again.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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18 Comments

  1. What an important post, Sandra! Yes, letting go of “stuff” to me, is sort of “practice” for letting go of everything about the material world at death. I am actually getting a little better at it —–I know that because I am getting rid of books, finally! 🙂 That represents a big step in letting go, at least for me! I am finally realizing that I am nearly 70 and just will not have the time (and maybe not even the interest) to read everything I have collected. I let go in layers sort of. Each time, I am able to let go of a deeper layer of stuff :). I have no problem with clothes because they mean nothing to me except comfort and warmth. The fashion industry would dry up like a raisin if it depended on me to buy things (with the exception of walking shoes and undies of course 🙂 ). I am cleaning out kitchen stuff right now, too, and that feels awesome! Watching my Dad die 15 years ago and taking care of him with senile dementia taught me a huge lesson in letting go. We do wear things out, our old bodies and minds included, and we really do just have to let go. After watching him lose everything before he finally died, I realized how ready I was to let him go! I don’t really fear death (except for the physical process) for myself, at least right now, but I sure do fear the deaths of my precious friends who are all getting older along with me, some of whom have already had serious heath problems. I have never figured out how to love completely and with abandon and not be attached —–that is the biggie for me, Sandra! Thanks for this and please keep reminding us of this often! I know it is helpful and encouraging for me!

    • Jean,

      Thank you for your sweet words of encouragement! I’m so impressed with how you are making progress with letting go of your material possessions and I love your approach of working at it in layers, each layer offering a deeper level of letting go.

      I think letting go of those we love is the most challenging! Sometimes, I think it happens more naturally when we go through a process of illness together as you did with your Dad and it’s so clear it’s time for the person to depart. Going through the final days with my own father, made it far easier for me to let go. But still, saying good-bye to our loved ones is challenging. I can’t deny my attachment, but I can keep infusing it with the perspective of how reality actually is and try to love as best I can.

      I’m inspired that you don’t fear death! Yes, the physical process can be challenging, but it’s different for all of us. So I’m trying to remind myself to not spend too much time projecting ahead.

      As always, I appreciate how deeply you engage with these issues!

      I’m so glad this post resonated for you. It’s not an easy topic for many people.

  2. Love this article Sandra. I like to think I’m willing to let go of anything that no longer serves me – and in general I am. I often use this phrase in a request to the Universe for guidance. I’m certainly willing to change countries, let go of of anything physical etc etc. But I think it’s beliefs and ways of being that are my next challenge – and my attachment to them. Letting go of the rest is good practice. I don’t even feel that attached to my own life, but I know I’ll be challenged when my Dad gets to that point. Letting go feels easy to me but for some reason attachment, not so easy – it’s a paradox I don’t fully understand right now. Guess I’m just not attached to some of the things our society conditions us for – consumerism for one. Thanks for this article – you always give me much to ponder.

    • Hi Vicky,

      You are an inspiration in letting go of so many things that many people would find difficul, including me! I think we all probably have those little corners of attachment, where we can’t quite yet let go. But I’m impressed that you know where you want to let go next (beliefs and ways of being) and that itself is a powerful start to getting there. Thanks for sharing so openly and so deeply.

  3. I like the Gary Zukav quote. Remembering the cycle of annihilation and creation, and that I’m just part of the sparkle right now puts everything in perspective and makes all the worldly details seem not so important. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Debbie,

      I think that’s exactly what we aim for, bringing this lightness of being to our approach in life! Thanks for underlining that.

  4. Agreed with everything you’ve written here, Sandra. It is counter-intuitive!! We could breakdown and have a life crisis when we think everything is going to end but things do end. And when they’ve ended in my life, completion or ending of things has helped me embrace the present moment better and value what’s in front of me. I don’t think I could have wrapped my heart around impermanence til I experienced some of it 🙂 Once I did, I have a much better perspective on change and even welcoming it into my life. Thank you for sharing your words here and your encouragement to think about death and impermanence.

    • Dear Vishnu,
      I think you’re quite adept now and working with change and could guide us all along the way a bit. I’m sorry you have had to learn the “hard” way, but maybe that is how most of actually. It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve been able to change your perspective on impermanence and feel all the better for it. I’m happy for you. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! It’s always a pleasure to see you here.

  5. Interesting is that we often love more what we have just lost. Why not do it the opposite way and love it so much that after we lose it we feel no pity.

  6. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of people passing on and leaving me behind Sandra. Letting go of ‘stuff’ is easy in comparison. Letting go of beliefs isn’t too hard, it just takes persistence and determination – not that I’ve got it down perfectly – but it’s part of personally developing oneself.

    Even though at a deep spiritual level I can totally accept that death is a transition from one state to another, intellectually….in the world of the physical…it’s a big hole in the fabric of life that I sometimes find hard to wrap my mind around.

    And I do believe that love is the answer. It’s truly an all encompassing answer to everything for me.

    Thank you, as always Sandra, for your wise words.

    Love Elle

    • I understand, Elle. I feel very much the same way. Letting go of loved ones is the most challenging of all. I’m glad you have all these other aspects of letting go down. I can’t deny my attachments. I think all we can do is be present with what is and love. Thanks for sharing so openly from your heart.

  7. Thank you for another wonderful post, Sandra

    Your articles always give much food for thought! And as I mentioned via twitter the other day, I feel that we are on similar wavelengths lately… About a month or so ago, I wrote a post about Transforming your life through konmari decluttering and last week, I wrote one on the The Secrets to Aging Well.

    As I’m engaged in my own decluttering journey, I see and am experiencing the ease you are describing in letting go of items. One thing that I thought I’d share that people may find helpful (that I learned via Marie Kondo) is to express (or think in mind) gratitude toward the item(s) before parting with them.

    In essence, I am acknowledging the purpose that they served (whether it was the joy I experienced when it was given to me as a gift, the use I had of the item for many years, the thought that I may read the book and enjoy it etc. and now someone else may benefit from X). I have found that this expression of gratitude eases immensely the source of obligation/guilt etc. to hold onto items that I would have felt the need to keep.

    Regarding the impermanence of life, I think it is both an interesting and difficult concept to fully absorb. In a sense, it is what makes life painful but at the same, it is probably what helps us truly value and appreciate life/each other.

    Steve Maraboli has a wonderful saying in this regard: “When you truly embrace your human impermanence you connect with the power you have, and influence you have, over the time you have.”

    Warmly,
    Dorlee

    • I’m glad you are finding more ease through decluttering, Dorlee,and doing it the joyful way! Thanks for sharing your gratitude process with us.

      This is so beautiful said: “Regarding the impermanence of life, I think it is both an interesting and difficult concept to fully absorb. In a sense, it is what makes life painful but at the same, it is probably what helps us truly value and appreciate life/each other.” Your words remind me that life just presents itself in so many different dimensions. Of course, we have some influence, but there’s so much we can’t control that it’s best just to let go and let it unfold. Love this quote! Thanks for that gift!

  8. In Sync….How amazing I just posted the card for today in the HWC and then I come here and read your post. At the same time I am reading Dying To Be Me by Anita Mooranji. This is really about letting go, allowing……. Excellent on death and fear too. I must say i have no fear of death, maybe as i have been close twice in my life, also i do believe in Life after death.
    Today I am doing some letting go of FB groups and email
    Thank You for you magic xx

    • I love the synchronicity, Suzie! That’s always sounded like a great book to me. Maybe I’ll read it too. How amazing that you have no fear of death. I’m happy for you. Those are great ways to let go. All the little steps can add up to big! Much love to you!

  9. When I came face to face with the very real possibility of dying from a life threatening illness, I learned how to detach from things. I learned just how impermanent life is and that I can’t take it with me. But what I can leave behind are the memories of shared experiences. Which is why I probably travel as much as I can. I am here to experience life, not cling to it. <3

    • That seems huge, Peggy. Such a big challenge and big learning. Thank you for sharing so openly with us. It’s a good reminder that we are all fragile, but live fully while we can.

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