Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

12 Things You Cling To That Block Your Inner Peace

A guest post by Steve Waller.

Take a deep breath and try to hold it for as long as you can.

Go on… do it now.

The longer you go, the harder it becomes. Not only does it begin to hurt physically, you have to fight against your natural urge to release the breath; to let go.

A single breath, when held for too long, symbolizes one of the biggest psychological and spiritual challenges we face as beings of consciousness. It captures the desire almost all of us have to cling on to something for fear of losing it, even when it is to our own detriment.

In Buddhism, it’s known as upādāna which literally translates as fuel. This clinging is the fuel for dukkha, another Buddhist term that means suffering. So the more you cling to things, the more you fuel your own suffering.

With this in mind, here are 12 such things that you might currently be clinging to. If you can release them as you would your held breath, you’ll enjoy the same sense of relief that it brings.

Are you attached to these 12 things? #innerpeace #happiness #attachment #clinging #buddhsim

1. Life

If you grip life too tightly, you stifle and restrict it. Yes, keep active, eat healthily, avoid negative habits and addictions – do things that keep your body and mind working as best they can, but don’t resist the passing of time and the inevitability of your physical death.

If you fear death, you fear life. You become gripped by anxiety, worry, and despair. Faced with the prospect of your flame one day burning out, you ask, “Am I living a worthwhile life? Am I fulfilling my potential? Could I be doing more/better?”

These questions of meaning and existence steal the present moment away; they form a breeding ground for doubt and cast your mind into a frenzy of overly critical thinking and rumination. Life passes in the blink of an eye; either accept this fact or face the prospect of spending much of it wracked by fear.

2. Permanence

Like life, everything must come to an end. If you cling to the belief that what you have now will last forever, you are destined to suffer repeated heartache.

Everything you base your life around is but a fleeting ripple in the ultimate reality. Things come and things go, and the best you can do is to accept this impermanence. If you don’t, every inevitable loss will come as a shock to your system and convince you of your bad luck, poor judgment, or ill fate.

If you can attune to this natural rhythm, this cycle of ceaseless birth and death, then you can learn to fully immerse yourself in the joy of the moment without fearing for its end.

When an unwelcome event befalls you, remember that it too will end. Don’t let yourself be deceived into believing that the suffering you endure will continue ad infinitum – it won’t.

3. The Past

In case you needed proof that all things are impermanent, just consider your past. Only… don’t consider it. For the past is another of those things that we humans like to cling to until our knuckles turn white.

You can think back to days gone by and smile, so long as you don’t use this as a form of escapism. You can find comfort in memories without pining for them – because as soon as you pine for them, any comfort quickly dissolves.

Yesterday is gone, never to return. Don’t mourn its passing and wish yourself back there because no genie can ever grant such a wish. Know that it was glorious and be thankful that it happened.

And as for past events that caused you pain, looks for lessons, but relinquish the hold they have over you. If you continue to cling to them, so the pain they cause will linger in your heart. Say goodbye to regret, remorse, and guilt; they will not serve you in the present nor the future.

4. Feelings

As with the joy or pain of the past, so all feelings should be considered transient. Positive, negative, or neutral – it doesn’t matter how you categorize them – feelings are nothing but a temporary mental state.

Like particles at a quantum scale, they spontaneously appear and disappear in a never-ending cycle. Like a musical note, they oscillate between peaks and troughs.

Feelings generally have causes, and it is these causes that we try to cling to in order to extend the resultant feeling. The problem is that the more you have to force these causes, the less likely they are to lead to the desired feeling. Much like the first mouthful of a delicious cake brings utter bliss, by the time you get to the third slice, your enjoyment turns to displeasure.

Similarly, when the feelings are undesirable, we cling to the thought of what caused them almost to the point of obsession. We add fuel to our own anger or sadness by letting events replay over in our minds.

5. Expectations

We humans have a capacity to think and plan forward in time that no other creature comes close to. We dream, we wish, we hypothesize, we expect. Unfortunately, the future has a knack of surprising us. No matter how much we like to think something will happen one way, it invariable takes another turn and heads in a different direction.

When this happens, the mental picture of the future we imagined is shattered and we are left facing a reality that is unknown and sometimes unwelcome. We ask how this could possibly happen; how did we get it so wrong?

If, instead, we loosened our grip on future events – if our expectations were reigned in with realism and an acceptance of uncertainty – we would greet each new event with a more open and tolerant eye. We wouldn’t be left fighting against an outcome we hadn’t planned for.

Another type of expectation we would do well to relinquish is those we have of other people. We might wish someone would act in a particular way, but we must realize that our control over events is limited, particularly where other minds and egos are involved. If you get upset every time a person does or says something you don’t like, you’ll live your life defined by others and suffer accordingly.

6. Self

You are you, right? At least, you think you are. But are you really?

Most people in the West will readily and enthusiastically identify with their “I” in the sense that they are who they are and they know it because they think, see, and hear independently to any other. Therefore, they must be themselves, for no one else can be them and they can’t be the other.

But who are you? Are you your body? Your mind? Your thoughts and feelings? Are you the stories you tell yourself or those you tell others? Are you the sum total of your experiences thus far?

No, you are none of these things. There is no real self for you to cling on to because all that you are is a state of flux. When you say “I am angry,” you aren’t defining yourself. Instead, the truth is more along the lines of “anger is present.” Remember, feelings are not permanent; they flow in and they flow out.

The only true way to define yourself is through negation. You can only say what you are not: “I am not my body for it changes,” and, “I am not my past because it no longer exists.”

You are not weak, you are not strong; you are not happy, you are not sad; you are not your work, your flaws, your abilities, or your doubts. You just are. And by cutting the strings that bind you to your identity as a “self,” you can be free from the burden of being some “one” and enjoy the reality of just being.

7. Separation

Your sense of self is also responsible for another of the myths we tell ourselves: that we are separate from the rest of the universe. We like to cling to this idea because we fear what it means to be one part of the infinite whole. We are unable to identify with the reality that we are the very opposite of separate.

When you think logically, the concept of a separate, independent being is nonsense. We are defined by our relationship to the environment around us. We are not in this environment, but rather of it. We live through it and we cannot be defined apart from it. When we sit, we are in unison with the chair; we cannot sit without it or some other form of support.

When we see a sight or hear a sound, it is only because of our environment. If it weren’t for everything around us, we would be floating in a vacuum of cold, dark nothingness. “We” as expressions of energy simply would not exist.

When you accept that there is no barrier between you and everything else, you can begin to appreciate things for what they truly are. Fear subsides and you stop fighting against what’s “outside” because you know that outside and inside are meaningless concepts.

8. Beliefs

One of the things people find most difficult to let go of is their set of beliefs, opinions and values. Again, this comes back to our sense of identity and the understanding that we are a unique and distinct person who is defined, in part, by those beliefs.

The arguments against this point of view should be familiar by now. Firstly, “you” are always changing, and if a belief really were a part of you, then it would not change. And yet our beliefs change all the time as we are influenced by the people and events around us.

This is precisely why the previous point about separation is relevant here too. Your beliefs are not some innate product of your being; they are shaped by your environment. Your parents, your teachers, that time you fell off the swing as a child; they all have a part to play in the things you think now.

When you realize that your beliefs and values are not really yours, you can detach from them. When you detach from them, you are able to view the reality around you and not some augmented version of it that is colored and tainted by your memories, expectations, and prejudices.

9. People

So much of our lives are defined by the people around us: the ways we interact and communicate with one another, the feelings we have for each other, and the thoughts about them that swirl around in our heads.

People are important, yes, but our attachment to them can be detrimental to our wellbeing. The risk is that we define ourselves through the people in our lives; we make them a part of us, a piece of our puzzle.

Of course, as soon as you do this, when a person leaves you – through death, conflict, or just drifting apart – you feel a sense of loss and emptiness because they take that piece of you with them. Suddenly, you are no longer whole.

They say “If you love someone, let them go,” and these are wise words indeed. It doesn’t mean they cannot be a part of your life; it means that you should be prepared for a time when they are not. It means that you should let go of your dependency on them to make you feel complete.

10. Material Possessions

We are surrounded by things, by stuff, by our possessions and personal artifacts. Rarely are we apart from them, and their influence on our lives seems to grow by the year.

Too many of us define our success and happiness by the quantity and quality of the things we buy. We post photos of/with them on social media, we brag about them to our friends, we use them as a yardstick against which we measure our worth.

Alas, when we lose something or when we are unable to purchase the shiny new object we want, we get angry or upset. Clinging to the idea that material possessions can somehow lead to the kind of soul-deep comfort we yearn for means we are never satisfied with what we have, because if we could buy our way to contentment, we would have already.

No personal belonging is worth the kind of charged emotional energy we pour into it. If we should lose everything we have, we are no less of a person than we ever were before.

11. Timetables

What do you want to achieve by the time you are 30? 40? 65? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? These are the types of question we often ask ourselves and are asked by others. Society expects us all to have a crystal clear plan for our future and a timetable to go with it.

Yet it’s rarely ever that simple.

We may hope to be in a certain position – in our careers, our love life, our financial situations – at various points in our future, but this wish is merely an extension of the expectations mentioned above.

We cannot lay claim to our fate in its entirety. Sure, you may help shape your fortunes one way or another; you may improve the chances of particular outcomes, but to have faith in a timetable you have set, or has been set for you, is a recipe for emotional disaster.

Things will not always go to plan. Sometimes they will, but most of the time you’ll be faced with a different result to the one you foretold. If you cling too tightly to the future you envisaged, you’ll be unable to enjoy and make the most of the present you have found yourself in.

Doris Day got it right when she sang, “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see.”

12. Security

Perhaps the thing we cling to most of all – and something that ties many of the previous 11 points together – is security. We want to feel safe, we want stability, and we want to know that when we wake up tomorrow we’ll have the means to enjoy our existence.

We cling to the security of ourselves, our jobs, our homes, our finances, our loved ones, and our freedom. We fear change because it puts our security in jeopardy; or we think it does. We don’t want to lose any of the things we already have: our life, our health, our wealth, our expectations of the future, our things, our family and friends, our sense of self.

If we could, we’d lock our lives up in a large safe, to which only we have the keys. Instead, we have to remain hyper-vigilant to any threat to those things we hold dear. We suspect anyone and anything that is unfamiliar; we shy away from risk; we close ourselves off to the possibilities present at every turn.

Yet by living a life dominated by a sense of scarcity, we overlook the sheer abundance that exists all around us. By fearing loss, we miss out on many gains.

So there you have it, 12 things we try to cling to that only serve to block any chance we have at inner peace. Knowing this, we can begin to dismantle these misconceptions and learn to relinquish our hold. By doing so, our pain will ease and our experience of life will improve.

It is always the false that makes you suffer, the false desires and fears, the false values and ideas, the false relationships between people. Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy, truth liberates.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj

Is clinging blocking your inner peace?  In which of these 12 areas do you especially feel this to be the case?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Steve Waller is the creator of A Conscious Rethink – a website dedicated to assisting people in their personal development. With articles ranging from psychology and philosophy to relationship advice and life hacks, it covers the most pressing matters each of us faces.

You can also connect with him on Facebook and Pinterest.

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21 Comments

  1. I do love security and being able to count on my life being routine and safe. But you are so right—the fear of something disturbing that gets in the way of complete happiness. Getting old is a new territory altogether, and I know life will change in ways that will unsettle things in my life. I have let go of a lot but have many more areas in which I would be happier if I let go! Thanks for a great and very true post!

    • Steve Waller

      Thanks for the kind words J, I’m glad you enjoyed my article. It sounds like you are doing pretty well on this already. As for getting old, I think it almost forces us to relinquish our grip on certain things, while the opposite is true for others (maybe our beliefs and world-view for instance). It’s all about the journey I guess.

    • I love how you are looking at this Jean. I love security and routine too. But holding everything lightly makes sense to me because in reality life is uncertain. It’s certainly proven itself that way this year, at least for me. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I wish you the very best with your aspiration to let go a little more.

  2. Such good advice and useful information, Steve. I learned many of these lessons when I had a brain injury ten years ago and did not have any choice but to let go of the past. My brain did not remember it! I have since pieced it together and recovered most of it.

    It’s amazing at how freeing it was to let it all go. Scary as heck, but it all turned out well in the end! 🙂

    • Steve Waller

      Wow Debbie, I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to lose memories like that. Glad to hear you’ve got most of them back because memories themselves aren’t a negative thing – from a psychological point of view they are very useful – but we humans do have a tendency to attach too much emotional significance to them and let them affect us over and over again.

    • Wow, you’ve been through so much, Debbie. I can’t imagine waking up with no or little memory. How inspiring that you found it freeing.

  3. One of the greatest insight for me is about impermanence. Thoughts and emotions are impermanent. There is no point clinging on to them. Yet, our minds could have been conditioned to think in a certain way, that we are afraid to let go.

    Years ago, I attended a meditation session during which the teacher taught us to contemplate over a dead body. The idea is to teach us on impermanence. Back then, I was new to meditation and could not quite grasp the ideas. It’s great that I can now fully appreciate your post and tips. It’s beautifully written, Steve! Thank you!

    • Steve Waller

      So true Evelyn, you use the word ‘afraid’ and I think you hit the nail on the head. We are unwilling to release our thoughts and emotions until we can replace them with something else because we almost fear a silent mind. This is why distraction is one of the best ways to overcome repetitive thought cycles because you give your mind a transition path across the void of silence to another place where it can occupy itself.

      That meditation practice sounds very interesting. I’ve not come across it before, but I can see the virtue in it. Not sure it’s one for the squeamish! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • This is all about impermanence, Evelyn, isn’t it! I can imagine how morbid it seemed to contemplate over a dead body. I see the wisdom however of realizing, on such a deep level, how everything is indeed transitory.

  4. I love number 6…the recognition that we are so much more than our bodies and our minds.

    This article is such a good reminder Steve and Sandra that by fearing to give up the safe and comfortable we miss out on all the treasures that life holds. Gotta let go of what we currently know to make room for even greater awareness, understanding and fulfillment.

    • Steve Waller

      Exactly Elle! We are everything and everything is us. If we limit our “selves” to our bodies and minds, we miss out on all the other wonders that we are. If we would only open ourselves up to the possibilities!

    • So beautifully said, Elle. This one is especially deep and profound.. I sometimes find it challenging to do this, but so agree this is the only way to really grow.

  5. These are powerful reminders, Steve and Sandra. Number 3 spoke to me in that it can be so unhelpful to cling to our past and continue to worry and obsess about it.

    Also, I’ve always wanted to jump back and have one more day when my kids were little to really savor that time, however that is not going to be happening anytime soon but fun to think about. It is a lesson to savor the present and also to let go of what has caused us pain in the past. Thank you!

    • Steve Waller

      So true Cathy, once we’ve learned what we can from the past, it does us little good to cling onto it other than to remember to be grateful for what has been. The past is but an echo, and who wants to live among echos when there are such wonderful, vibrant sounds around us always?

    • The past has been haunting me lately, Cathy and I so agree it’s painful to cling to it. I’m really working with my mind to let go.

      Your memories are so lovely. Yes as you say, this will not come to pass again, at least not in this lifetime.

  6. Steve, this article is so full of such great advice. I especially appreciate your wisdom on #8 Beliefs…as I am in the process of redefining my beliefs here. There is such a level of freedom that comes from knowing that we actually CAN reshape our beliefs as we see fit, without external pressures.
    xoxo, Z~

    • Steve Waller

      Thanks Zeenat, really glad you enjoyed the article. Beliefs are such a funny thing because at the very moment we hold them, we don’t think we can ever believe differently, and yet they change and adapt all the time – we’re just not normally aware of it. Yet we can be the potters, crafting our beliefs out of the ever-malleable clay of our minds.

    • Hello Zeenat,

      Our beliefs govern everything, don’t they. I’ve recently been struck by how powerful it can be to let go of unhelpful beliefs.

  7. Love how Steve has challenged the myths we hold on to! Our biggest enemies are the past and our expectations; they always influence everything we attempt to do. And oh, that inner critic committee! Phew!

    Loved the post, Steve and Sandra!

  8. ShV

    Make a positive change starting from today! I’m sharing a kindness calendar of actions for this month to make a positive impact on your and others’ lives! Please follow the link and start living a happy life from today!

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