Sunday, May 17, 2015

Letting Go

"Olive Branches and Morning Sun" 
- At the Desert Retreat House -

The other day I came across something the Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. once wrote:

Letting go gives us freedom,
And freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
Anger, anxiety or possessions –
we cannot be free.

At first this sounds somewhat simple, perhaps even simplistic; and yet if I am to be very honest, this would have never made much sense to me in my earlier years of life. In fact it was only recently that I finally began to appreciate the full impact of what Master Hanh is saying here in this one simple little sentence.

As I reflect on it, I spent the first half of my life “collecting,” “building up,” and “hanging on,” now my life-task is to let it all go.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, talks about this experience of “letting go” in the “second half of life:”

In the second half of life one has less and less need or interest in making again those old rash judgments, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish people. Your superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions. You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counterproductive, and often entirely wrong.

At this phase in my life I no longer have to prove that I or my group is the best, that my ethnicity is superior, that my religion is the only one that God loves, or that my role or place in society deserve superior treatment.

I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and in fact, quite simply, my desire is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received.

Every single word of this makes so much profound sense to me - it is exactly where I now find myself at this phase of my life. I am no longer building a resume, climbing the ladder of success, worrying about how competent I am in the eyes of others, always proving myself to them. And, if truth be told, I guess that in the past I probably did think of myself as somewhat superior to others with all my advanced degrees and “exalted” positions in life - but I’ve let all that go.

I am just amazed at how letting it go has indeed brought me a sense of liberation and freedom. I have a whole new understanding of what Jesus meant when he taught: you have to lose your self in order to find yourself.

Of course, you don’t have to be chronologically older to discover the secret of the “second half of life. I know plenty of people, well-advanced in age, who still remain pretty narcissistic, and I also know lots of younger people who have learned the life-lesson about “letting go.”

I guess I just wish I had learned this earlier on; but no regrets here - time to move on and to enjoy the freedom of living into the second half of life.

Thomas Merton once said:

When ambition ends, happiness begins.

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"


  1. Really appreciated this. The thoughts of Thich Nhat Hanh speak to me.

    "If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
    Anger, anxiety or possessions –
    we cannot be free."

    Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose are lines from an old song that also ring true..

    I think in the end the spiritual struggle is indeed the struggle to let go. I wasn't able to consider the truth of that until realizing this old bag of bones and mind full of worries and body of aches and pains is not really me at all. I just happen to be occupying this old bag of bones.

    1. older age really has its benefits, doesn't it?