There are myriad strategies for traveling the spiritual path. We can focus on nonattachment. Or impermanence. On not clinging or resisting. On not wanting or fearing. We can emphasize letting go. Or being present. And others, I’m sure.
But whatever they are, they all seek to achieve the same thing: Shedding our conditioned, egoic, mind-dominating selves. The more we shed, the more awakened and conscious we become. This manifests as an inward feeling of peace and an outward flow of love and compassion toward others.
Mickey Singer gets it right
My favorite among the above is Mickey Singer’s focus on letting go of our conditioned selves. He teaches that we all have good and bad experiences as kids and adults. The problem is that instead of experiencing and then letting these things go, we hold onto them. The massive collection of all this emotional baggage is another way of describing this egoic self.
So Singer teaches that the point of our lives is to consistently and persistently let go of this baggage/self. How? Each time we notice that one of our buttons has been pushed, i.e., we feel our ego rearing its ugly head, we immediately relax. All over. Then we let go of that feeling. I like to visualize a small bubble of emotion traveling from my stomach up and out of my head.
The previous two paragraphs sum up the one and only course Mickey Singer ever created. It consisted of eight fantastic, mesmerizing hours of talks (you can find it at soundstrue.com).
My letter to Mickey
I was so moved by the course that I wrote Singer a letter thanking him for it. But my letter also contained a suggestion. Something I thought he should emphasize more than he did. What is that suggestion?
Well, it has to do with one of the three steps in his technique which are: 1. notice 2. relax 3. let go. And the winner is…
In my letter, I urged Mickey to place more emphasis on people noticing when a piece of emotional baggage (which he calls the Sanskrit word samskara) has arisen. Why does that need more emphasis?
Our emotional buttons are like water to fish
Because our buttons, both big and small, get pushed every single day. And this has happened every day for decades for many of us. The point being that when it has been such a “normal” part of our lives for so long, it takes extra conscientiousness to notice when these feelings come up. It’s like telling a fish to notice the water around it!
So the first thing we need to do is to become extra vigilant about noticing when our “stuff” comes up. But there’s something we need to do before we even notice. And that’s the focus of this piece.
What is that? It’s something practical and commonsense oriented.
We need to think about the main triggers in our lives that stir up our insides.
We want to think of the subjects or areas that cause us the most grief and then be on the lookout for when those things come up in the day.
Here are my own examples. No judgment, please. (Come to think of it — check out my article from a year ago about why judging isn’t good for anybody!)
1. The feeling of pressure I get, mainly in the morning, to produce articles, which, along with teaching online meditation and mindfulness classes, is my main job these days. This goes to my core issue of feeling like I need to be a traditional “success,” mostly because my five older siblings (I’m the youngest) were all hard-charging Harvard and Stanford types. It’s the one major piece of baggage I most need and want to let go of.
2. Related to #1 is the impulse to check my Medium reading statistics and ponder how much money I’ll make in any given month.
3. I get uptight, cranky and downright angry when my kids fight with each other or just make a ton of noise.
4. When my wife says something to me that is meant to get a rise out of me. “Sorry I’m so crazed, but I have a REAL job unlike somebody else around here…” That kind of thing.
5. Hitting red lights consistently raises my ire and is something I work on just about every day.
Write yours down. And don’t write a list of twenty things. Try for a top five. That way you’ll be better able to remember them when they come up.
All of this is in the service of buttressing our ability to notice when our buttons get pushed. Because we can’t relax and let go of our baggage unless we notice it has reared its ugly head.
Letting go is the whole ballgame
I’ll close by reiterating something I’ve written many times before: Letting go of our baggage is the indispensable key to attaining peace, happiness, enlightenment, nirvana…whatever your version of the spiritual endgame is. We can take every class, read every book, listen to every talk, meditate for 10,000 hours and spend 25 years in an ashram, but if we don’t let go of ourselves, we’ll never find that pot at the end of the spiritual rainbow.
It’s hard work and it takes a ton of commitment. But there’s no more important work that we humans can do.