Attachment to mental constructs is a significant source of potential pain, our thoughts, ideas of ourselves and others and of the world accumulate and we hold onto them believing that they are who we are. In some ways this is true. We do act according to our thoughts, our beliefs, our understanding of the world and where we fit into it, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t flexible or that there aren’t thoughts we can and should let go of. Usually, if we consider letting go of thoughts we target those that are obviously giving us trouble, and sometimes this is pointed out to us by a counsellor or therapist, who can quickly identify a thought that is self harming. Most of us can easily see that thinking “ I am not good enough” is the type of thought that could land us in the therapist’s office or lead to tragic ends.
It seems to be human nature to develop an endless set of mental constructs and quite likely it has it’s uses, such as navigating our way through life and many of these thoughts and ideas are seemingly harmless. Letting go of the thoughts themselves isn’t always necessary but letting go of an attachment to them can be quite helpful. If I am attached to my idea of who I am and build up a definition of myself around it, what will happen to me if some of those ideas are challenged, or if they completely disappear? We grieve the loss of something that we thought defined us, perhaps it is a relationship role, a job title, a political or religious affiliation, maybe a nationality or cultural identity. We believe that all of these things make us who we are and we hold tight to them, lest we should simply float away. If the fear of floating away from these identities is strong enough to make us cling in that way, the loss of them will be very painful and difficult and life always brings with it the potential for loss.
So how do we cope? Awareness is the first and most important part of any growth. I am aware that I have created ideas about myself and others, about my world. I am aware that they might be wrong, or fragile or that they could change. I pay attention to times when I know that this happened, when something changed or was not what I thought it was, and I recall that I survived it, perhaps even grew better because of the experience. As far as I know I have only one life and I want to make the best of it. I want to support other people to make the best of theirs. I would not be human if I did not make mistakes, experience suffering, develop attachment to ideas, people and things, and there are many many things I cannot have control over or even influence, but life is about learning when to hold on and when to let go. For me, my Buddhists practice helps. It’s a simple philosophy for living, not a religion, not with dogma. I do what works and strive to cause no harm, to myself or others. Everything changes, is impermanent, so learn from the past, prepare for the future, and remember to live NOW.