Let It Be (written 2014)
I heard a speaker once talking about one of the central practices of mindfulness. As we learn to live in the present moment, whether it is watching our breath as we sit, or counting cars at a railway crossing when we're stuck in traffic, or controlling acting out when someone has pushed in front of us in a line-up,we are taught to note what catches the mind (the boredom, the impatience, the anger) and to “let it go”. This teacher suggested instead that we watch and “let it be”. I like this rendering, and not just because I can hear the Beatles' gentle crooning when I think these words.
Letting it go works too, so long as we remember this is not a pushing away. Not a launching ourselves out of there and closing the door. Not giving the feeling a push and turning away. Letting it be is less a matter of me doing anything and that's what mindfulness is about.
In my daily sitting practice I often find serenity. And if I were wishing I'd say that's probably what I'd wish for every day. Finding the mind complacent and obedient. Settling readily on the breath and going with this flow of life, moment to moment. Just as it is. This sort of strong concentration gives rise to a deep feeling of ease that is soothing and healing. When it happens, and the bell rings to end the hour, I carry with me a calm that enhances the day. It gives me access to greater receptivity, allows me to see through to what is important in each moment and not to be side-lined or blind-sided. For awhile anyway.
But on days when the mind is restless or sleepy or full of wanting it is anything but obedient. It moves again and again to being annoyed by itches, drifting into dreams, yearning for the bell to ring. And my task is to be with this. To see what things are like right now and let it be. Not to jump from the cushion, not abandon the effort, not pretend this isn't happening. Watching and being curious about the mind, I see that when I stay with this, let the grumbling continue in the background as I carry the attention gently, like a child having a tantrum, back to the breath, eventually, like the child, it gives up. The tantrum ends. The sleepiness recedes. The restlessness dissolves. The wanting evaporates. And there is just the breath again.
At the railway crossing, I can look at my watch and snort and grumble. I can distract myself by sending a text message or fiddling with the radio. I can annoy other drivers, and cause confusion and possibly danger by trying to maneuver to the shoulder, turn around and find another way. Or I can let it be. Rolling down the window if the day is warm. Loosening a coat and finding my breath in my belly. Letting this moment be a gift. Because it is. Like a shiney coin found in the sand, each moment is available to be discovered as treasure only once. When I can do this, my shoulders loosen and my frown dissolves. My breath comes smoothly and my mind and body are at ease. When the train has passed, I move with clarity, not carrying a burden of pain and resentment with me into the next part of my day.
In the line-up, I can push back and give the other person a piece of my mind. I can get into an argument or even an altercation if the other is also reactive. We can both cause hurt, emotional and physical that can spin out into the room, the group that is present, and the lives of those we encounter for the rest of the day or beyond. I can step back in silence and let the raving take place in my mind or send messages to the newspaper where cartoon bleeps express my anger and disdain. And in doing this the moment spins out to color my day with tension and anger. I may develop a headache. I may lose sleep composing a rant. I may carry my story to others and bring them on side so that we both carry the burden of anger, and deal with its pain. Or I can let it be. I can breathe and assess whether waiting behind one more person really makes a big difference to my day. I can imagine what things must be like for someone who is willing and able to behave in this way. Was it accidental? A lack of mindfulness we can all be prone to. If intentional, what anger are they already carrying, what are they already suffering? What if I reframe the incident with allowing. What if I invite them, whispering gently in my mind: “Please, go ahead.” If I can manage this, I might ease my own sense of injustice. I might find that the smile I bring to my lips also brings happiness and forgiveness to my own heart. Maybe.
Letting it be isn't like lying back in the grass on a sunny day. It's a conscious choice to see what is arising in the moment as well as what I'm bringing to meet the moment. And it requires vigilance and effort. And a lot patience with a human mind prone to tantrums and inattention.