Q.I have a lot of trouble letting go of things: relationships, jobs, feelings, and so on. How can I reduce these attachments?
A: To “let go” means to let go of something. That something may be an object of our mind, something we’ve created, like an idea, feeling, desire, or belief. Getting stuck on that idea could bring a lot of unhappiness and anxiety.
We’d like to let it go, but how? It’s not enough just to want to let it go, we have to recognize it first as being something real. We have to look deeply into its nature and where it has come from, because ideas are born from feelings, emotions, and past experiences, from things we’ve seen and heard. With the energy of mindfulness and concentration, we can look deeply and discover the roots of the idea, the feeling, the emotion, the desire. Mindfulness and concentration bring about insight, and insight can help us release the object in our mind.
Say you have a notion of happiness, an idea about what will make you happy. That idea has its roots in you and your environment. The idea tells you what conditions you need in order to be happy. You’ve entertained the idea for ten or twenty years, and now you realize that your idea of happiness is making you suffer. There may be an element of delusion, anger, or craving in it. On the other hand, you know that you have other kinds of experiences: moments of joy, release, or true love. You recognize these as moments of real happiness. When you have had a moment of real happiness, it becomes easier to release the objects of your craving, because you are developing the insight that these objects will not make you happy.
Many people have the desire to let go, but they’re not able to do so because they don’t yet have enough insight; they haven’t seen other alternatives, other doorways to peace and happiness. Fear is an element that prevents us from letting go. We’re fearful that if we let go we’ll have nothing else to cling to. Letting go is a practice; it’s an art. One day, when you’re strong enough and determined enough, you’ll let go of the afflictions that make you suffer.
From Answers from the Heart (2009) by Thich Nhat Hanh