When you must un-cling, well, you certainly must!
A reader wrote to me saying “letting go” is never easy: “If only letting go were as easy as closing a book! We are expected to play some roles, perform some duties, irrespective of what we feel, and everything becomes just one big pretend.”
I agree with his perspective. This has been my experience too. But the truth is that “letting go” is sometimes not an option any of us has; in certain situations it is perhaps the only way. It is therefore important that we understand clearly what “letting go” means and what it certainly is not.
“Letting go” means the ability to detach yourself from a situation, person, event or opinion; it simply means un-clinging from whatever you are clinging on to. It certainly does not mean abdicating responsibility or running away. It is clearly not recommended as a way to avoid performing a duty or dropping ownership of a situation.
When you don’t let go of something, or someone, you suffer. This is a plain and simple truth about Life. Clinging on brings misery. So, “letting go” means making a conscious choice that despite all the pain, despite all the trappings of attachment, despite the emotional burden on you, you choose not to suffer. “Letting go” is a gift of freedom that you award yourself.
Let me explain this with an example. My friend’s parents are ailing; they are both bed-ridden. My friend is going through a separation with his wife because the lady refused to partner with him on his responsibilities as a son. The parents are conservative folks, very ritualistic and demand a lot of attention. My friend has taken the separation from his wife in his stride. He says the “burden of guilt” – for having let the marriage break-up owing to his “sense of duty” towards his parents – is enormous. But he says he has forgiven himself for it. He says he realized he cannot please everyone. So, he forgave his wife for her choice, forgave himself for his choice, forgave his parents for being who they are, the way they are, and he’s at peace with his reality. This is “letting go”. He says he practically does not have a social Life because apart from keeping his day-job, all his waking hours are consumed by tending to his parents or fulfilling religious rituals on their behalf. So, he makes his peace with his personal Life by staying up late every night and watching a movie on his laptop while having a couple of drinks. This is “letting go” again!
Of course, “letting go”, in my friend’s case could have also been admitting his parents to a senior citizens’ home and choosing to be with his wife. Had he made that choice, I would have still not called it dereliction of duty. I, for instance, have made a similar choice with regard to my own relationship with my parents.
There is no right or wrong way to “letting go”. In some situations in Life, “letting go” is the only way to inner peace. Clearly, “letting go” comes from accepting your current reality, and from knowing which parts of your Life you can control and which parts you cannot, from knowing what you want from Life, in a given situation, and what you don’t want – and, important, knowing the difference! So, while “letting go” may not exactly be easy, it is simple, it can be done. You decide when you want to un-cling and, well, just do it!
Detachment is not a choice. It is a necessity.
The other day Vaani and I watched a play titled ‘I Am An Actor, Your Honor’. It is produced by renowned actor Suhasini Maniratnam, and directed by three directors – KK, Priya and Suhasini. The play is a tribute by Suhasini to her father Charuhasan and features popular theatre actor Y Gee Mahendra in Charuhasan’s role and YGM’s daughter Madhuvanthi Arun in Suhasini’s role. Scripted as a series of candid conversations, between father and daughter, on all matters relating to Life and death, the play, though a trifle long and winding in parts, is thought-provoking. It certainly made me pause and reflect.
It portrayed Charuhasan honestly – as the atheist, secular, rational, non-materialistic, free thinker that he really is. I particularly liked the part where he asks Suhasini to read out his will. It declares that he owns no material assets like property or cars or gold; and directs that after his demise his body should be given for medical research and his personal belongings are to be given away to the needy. His will also stipulates that no religious ceremonies or rituals need to follow his demise and that if his body is not found to be fit for medical research, it may be unceremoniously cremated at an electric crematorium. This is rational thought, practicality, secularism, spirituality and detachment in action. The only other man I know who has thought through his Life – and death – with as much clarity is my good friend Ejji – read the announcement on his proposed obituary here.
I have often wondered about the futility of wanting to accumulate, amass and cling on to material assets. I have often though about the futility of being attached to people and relationships. Yes, we need material stuff to get past our lifetime – a roof over our head, some basic furniture, a mode of transport (Uber has obviated that requirement too), food for sustaining us biologically, a couple of devices – like a mobile phone and computer – to make Life simpler. Yes, we need some source of income or a means of paying our utility bills month on month. Yes, we need to have a companion, a family that we can love and that can, and will, hopefully, love us back. But although this is a list of bare necessities, I don’t think we cannot survive without any or some of them. The truth is we sure can. But sadly we kid ourselves to imagine that we can’t. It is this imagination that brings suffering in our lives.
Even I used to think this way – that we can’t live without clinging on to material assets and that we can’t be unemotional about our relationships – until I realized that when my number is called, and I have to go, I can take nothing, and no one, with me. That’s when I began to see the value in practicing detachment. That’s when I saw how much time we are wasting in this temporary human experience by being attached to all that is one day not going to be ours or be with us anyway.
To be sure, I am still learning to be detached. And I guess no one ever gets to the stage of being totally detached – for it is a continuous, evolutionary, process. But from being on this journey of learning to be detached for some years now, I have understood that it is not at all difficult. I employ a two-step test with anything that makes me feel as if I am clinging on to it – be it a relationship or be it a material object. I simply ask: Is this person or thing going to matter to me after I am gone? Can/will I matter to this person or thing after I am gone? Whenever the answer is ‘no’ to both questions, I simply stop clinging on – I let go! And instantaneously I experience freedom, bliss! Occasionally, I may get ‘yes’ as an answer to the second question, and in such cases, I go back to asking myself the first question and, lo and behold, I am all fired up now to let go. I seize that momentum and I let go – and I become free! So, my little secret is not that I am detached all the time. But that my awareness of the futility of attachment prevails on me and reasons with me. It helps me to restore my detachment equilibrium every time attachment surfaces to torment me or hold me to ransom.
Being detached is not at all difficult. Ah, yes, it is a lot of work though! But you won’t mind the workload when you realize that detachment holds the key to your inner peace. Which is, when you understand that this entire human experience is ephemeral, you too will un-cling both at a material and at an emotional level, and live fully, freely and happily!