A common piece of advice for discipling children (or training a new puppy) is something like: “Don’t reward bad behavior with your attention. Ignore it. When the offending party sees that they are not getting a rise out of you, they will stop.”
In spiritual circles, too, teachings on letting go—not feeding the negativity, or learning how to accept things that are difficult to change—are common.
In fact, letting go has become so permeated with spiritual practice, it is nearly synonymous with it. Don’t feed the beast, is the underlying reasoning. When it comes to petty arguments and judgmental thoughts, honing the capability to let go is still the best approach.
But when it is no longer used with discretion or mindfulness, but rather as a reflex, the teaching of letting go permits us to turn away when the world needs us most. It excuses our silence when we are uncomfortable or afraid. It provides a rationale for withdrawing from our problems—or the world’s problems—if it’s not (yet) happening to us.
A WISER VOICE
Right now, people are getting hurt in our country. More stand to get hurt in the future if we don’t get vocal and stay active. As a reminder, here are just a few of the things we have seen in the last few years:
The encouragement of increased violence against minority populations—spoken from the bully pulpit.
The encouragement of violence against journalists—also spoken from the bully pulpit.
An increase in the support of (or the action of) violence from government and law officials.
The rise of White Nationalism, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists in cities across the country.
The teaching of letting go is not only inadequate and inappropriate for the situation we are in now, it is dangerous.
A letting go, looking-the-other-way approach might work well when children throw a public tantrum. But in no way does this help fight the oppression, the muffling, and the hatefulness we see sprouting up all around us. Not only that, but ignoring bad behavior is not what letting go was ever about.
THE MEANING OF LETTING GO
To truly understand the meaning behind the teaching of letting go, I like to refer to the Bhagavad Gita, one of yoga’s primary texts. The book is centered around the story of a young warrior named Arjuna. Frightened, unsure, and fearful of failure, he appeals to Krishna about the fight before him.
If we condensed the advice from Krishna down into just three sentences, it would read like this:
1) Show up and do the work you were meant to do in the world.
2) Let go of your attachment to the results.
3) Return to number 1.
Letting go, then, is not a teaching of turning away, or ignoring bad behavior, or withdrawing into safety when things get hard or ugly. Instead, the teaching is designed to help us handle the inevitable disappointment when, after acting in the world, we don’t see the desired fruit.
All of the frightening developments in our country can one day be a disgraceful-but-humbling period on our historical radar (but tragically, not for those who are dying at the hands of hate-filled and hate-spewing murderers). Or, these small shifts can become slowly normalized, blending into our way of life—and, like the proverbial frog in increasingly hot water, we can slowly grow numb to the hostilities we face.
Which direction we go depends on us. It depends on whether or not we are going to let this go. All actions—even the absence of actions—have consequences.
MINDFULNESS AND CHOICE
Each and every situation we face in life deserves a mindful response. There are some things in life we can let go of. And other things we must not—like the rise of hate. So…
When you see White Nationalists marching down the streets, chanting old Nazi slogans, don’t let this go.
If you hear people put off important discussions about climate change because, “Now is not the time,” don’t let this go.
In the face of efforts to make voting harder and less accessible, don’t let this go.
Whenever our president and his staff belittle, insult, or even threaten congresspeople, cities, journalists and other critics by name in person or on Twitter, please, don’t let this go.
Instead, enter the necessary confrontations, dialogues, injustices, and discomforts with all the tools from our spiritual toolboxes: courage, steadiness, resilience, grounding, and most importantly, mindfulness.
Because right now, the world needs mindful and compassionate people, fighting for the causes they believe in: justice, love, compassion, equality.
Let’s not let being “spiritual” stop us from being among them.