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The Art of Letting Go - A Taoist Approach

by Amy Suplee(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 129 - November 2006


The idea of ‘letting go’ is logically such a simple concept, but can be one of the most difficult of tasks to carry out. If there were a simple solution, a ‘quick fix’ remedy to being able to ‘let go’, it would surely be desirable and likely worth millions. It has been said that ‘’learning to live is learning to let go”, (Sogyal Rinpoche), for nothing in life is permanent, and eventually we have to let go of each and every thing that enters our lives, including ourselves. Life can be a difficult struggle because our minds become preoccupied with desire, and more specifically, desired outcomes relative to people, places and things. Whether we achieve the desired outcome or not, we have a tendency to cling incessantly to the object of our desire. In time, this becomes a conditioned response, as we cling to everything that enters the parameters of our life. This NEED is what stagnates us and puts us into a state of misery. Rather than enjoying the freedom within change and the new doors that are trying to open for us, if we would only let them, we stare at the closed doors long after they are in fact CLOSED. Our minds busy our lives with their useless thoughts – the fears we have about the future, the torment that we have about our past, and the anxiety of what “may or may not happen.” These very thoughts keep us spinning our wheels in our self-constructed whirlpool of negativity as we replay and rehearse situations of which we have no control. The more productive stance to take is, “when we find ourselves in a useless battle, we merely walk off the battlefield.”[1] Of course this is easier said than done. Because of our conditioning to cling to everything, it will only be achieved by practising and rehearsing the act of letting go. It is not a task which will happen overnight, but rather a process of putting one foot in front of the other, where progress is made each day. It comes down to making a conscious decision to practise this art by ridding our minds of worthless anxieties, toxic thoughts, debilitating anger and resentment, and unnecessary fears/worries about the future. This fear of uncertainty can surely steal our life force if we allow it to overtake us. Even though circumstances themselves may be out of our control at the present moment, it is important to remember that we ultimately have control over ourselves, our response and our attitude in relation to these circumstances. With our own awareness, we can use this time to clean up our own side of the fence by taking responsibility for any part we played in creating the present circumstances. With this new attitude, we are more easily able to accept that which life has in store for us by allowing our direction to come from the divine.

Letting Go of Resistance

Our challenge in life is to face whatever it is that is presented to us by the universe, and to become enthralled by the mystery and the unfolding of our lives, without knowing exactly how it will unfold. Since there are no guarantees, this concept is only grasped by truly understanding that everything is impermanent; no moment in time can be held on to forever, be it good or bad. In this way, life has an admirable quality to it in knowing that all situations can be transformed, which is especially appreciated when one hits a low point. It is relieving to remember that ‘this too shall pass’. Life does continue to flow, and no situation lasts forever. Therefore, true healing is occurring all the time, and once the situation is brought to light, within the realms of universal timing and our own inner awareness, the pain will subside. It is our task to find that seemingly small amount of light within the dark moment and expand on it. It can be an uncomfortable place to be while in the thick of it, but if life didn’t push us to our limits, we would likely lack the discipline needed to dive into ourselves with such vigour. By being placed in a state of discomfort we are forced to find the answers in ourselves to transcend beyond our static state of being. Change is followed by growth, and growth can be a painful experience if we are unprepared and resistant to what is taking place. We begin to experience problems when we try to hold onto a moment, in an effort to make the situation permanent or different than what it is. We all have a tendency to get ‘stuck’ in a state of ‘longing’ for something that inevitably must change. “This emotional investment can cloud our ability to be able to see clearly.”[2] The key is to stop grasping and accept the changes that are taking place. Once we come to understand that new beginnings can only occur by letting go of the old, we can be open to that new beginning and feel the opportunity rather than the pain associated with the change. When it becomes clear that what once supported our own growth and expansion is no longer fulfilling that need, it is time to move on. Change which occurs against our will is usually difficult, because of the vulnerability within ourselves, when we must surrender to the circumstances that are outside of our control. This state of powerlessness can cause us to feel helpless; thus emerges the fear that facilitates the downward spiral. But, through this fear, we are then able to evaluate exactly how much of our ‘identity’ is attached to a particular person/situation/outcome based on the amount of anxiety experienced, and how difficult it is to withdraw. With our own awareness we can recognize the fear, but keep it at bay. We must not forget the restorative nature of this change – it is in itself a death of something that we have outgrown. Not only have we likely outgrown the life circumstances, but we too have outgrown certain habits/behaviours of our own. In order for our lives to flow again, we must take a look at what needs to be changed within ourselves. Without this opportunity for a new beginning, all would surely come to a halt and life would remain dark. Darkness must first die before it can again come to light. This follows the exact laws of nature in the birth-growth-death-rebirth cycle that all things undergo. For example, a forest fire seems to be a purely destructive force, but it is tremendously positive in actuality, allowing the opportunity for re-birth and re-growth. Without this, the forest would become very unhealthy.

Trusting Divinity

Our bodies are constantly undergoing change with the birth and death of our tissues and cells. However, it goes unnoticed much of the time because of our conditioning to overlook it, but this is in fact going on all around us. Yet, we most often only notice the big devastating changes because of the pain that is associated with them. This type of change puts the ego in a very vulnerable position, because it is no longer holding the reins of our life with complete control. There is a power greater than ourselves which has stepped in and taken over. The ego still wants to be the one in control so it causes a great deal of confusion within us. The idea here is to stop pushing forward and allow change to run its course, by allowing life to show us what it has in store for us; hence the universal plan takes over. By accepting this existential reality, we can pull our energy back into ourselves for rejuvenation, allowing for the inner-growth process that is necessary at this time. This is in fact what the universe is pushing us to do. Then, when the tides change and the new opportunity presents itself, the appropriate action can be taken, and we have a newfound strength to work with. This is a time when we must completely surrender, because we are often times being forced against our will to go within and do Nothing. As Lao Tzu (the great Chinese philosopher) once said, “practise not doing and everything will fall into place”. This does not literally mean ‘do absolutely nothing’, but rather that we should ‘go with the flow’ by creatively keeping ourselves involved in life and what the present moment has to offer, without trying to push for answers and make spontaneous changes. This is clearly a time to strengthen the Self, and as the Self is strengthened, new levels of creativity will emerge that were previously undiscovered, for this new space allows for expansion. “By strengthening your defense under adverse conditions, you will create an effective offense.”[3] It is the ultimate test of power and self-control, and when this test arises it is often unavoidable. To resist this universal shift and attempt to Act will only create more pain, confusion and chaos. The universe sends us very clear messages, and when life speaks to us loud and clear, it is wise to listen. There is a deep lesson here that must be learned internally before external events can shift. It is natural to go through a healing process and even a state of crisis. It is very important to allow this grieving process to occur and let the emotions come to the surface, without trying to resist, repress or suppress the feelings. Once we move through this stage, we can reach a certain point in our healing where we can simply observe our own minds and thoughts without having the energetic attachment to them. Once we distance ourselves and become less fascinated with the outcome, we can rise above it, as if we are on top of a mountain looking down, and realize that it is all just a story. By tapping into our inner truth, we can then realize that we have the ability to change that story and to live out a new life which has been set before us.

By taking action and making decisions out of fear, we move further away from our own happiness, because we are pushing at this door before it is ready to open, since the situation is not yet ripe for action. It is a time for withdrawal, to look inward and wait in Faith that all will unfold when it is meant to. Events happen in their own time. You cannot force a flower to grow or make a tree bear leaves. It is a process that ‘springs’ forward after a much needed downtime. This period of darkness is actually rejuvenative for the nature of all things. The same holds true for us. By making poor choices to avoid this downtime and the pain, that may be associated with looking deeply at ourselves, it will only deepen the state of darkness, making it much more difficult for us to dig our way out. During this time of restoration, patience must be practised. Though dark now, everything will again be illuminated later. “When negativity has nothing to feed upon, it destroys itself, making room for the new opportunities to take root.”[2]

Be Here Now

Far too often we put our energy into the future, in an attempt to create a desired outcome. According to a Chinese proverb, “people in the West are always getting ready to live”, rather than actually living. The fact of the matter is that if our energy is invested in our future, then we have no energy left for the present. If we are skipping over the surface of our lives by physically being present but our consciousness is invested elsewhere, we are missing out on the depth of each experience of life. Often we move from event to event without truly appreciating what is offered in each moment, and miss out on the deeper wisdom that life offers us, because of our preoccupation with what is to come and how we can ‘will it’ into being. Our own preoccupation with what we ‘want to happen’ often blinds us to what is happening on a macrocosmic level. This desire can cause us to act, failing to honour the timing that is necessary for things to fall into place. When the time is right, life will present the new opportunities which will begin the flow back to vibrancy and vitality once again. “What was depleted is again replenished,’’[2] and any energy that was stored up during the period of stagnation will be used in the most beneficial way. Relaxation, trust, patience and faith will allow one to have understanding and peace of mind during this time. It is imperative to understand that whatever crisis we are experiencing is happening to push us to find our true strength and deepest wisdom within ourselves. As a result, this awakening will take us to a better place in life, and once it all unfolds, this newfound clarity will make it evident why it all happened the way it did. By gaining distance and perspective on the situation at hand, we can calm our inner energy and evaluate the options before taking a new action. In pulling back we gain hindsight that we did not previously have. The strength and centeredness gained at this time will prove to be invaluable by preparing us for future challenges. There will then be a knowingness that we can conquer life’s most difficult challenges and persevere through rough times, and not only remain standing, but prosper! This is also an opportunity for us to take a personal inventory of our lives and show gratitude for all that we have, rather than everything that we think we need. As the well-known Zen Buddhist (and author) Adyashanti says: “We have already reached enlightenment. We just need to wake up and realize that it already exists within us.’’ I believe that once we come to this understanding we will have control over ourselves and our ability to react to life’s dilemmas. We will view the concept of ‘letting go’ as a refreshing experience, and wonder why others continue to fight the battle when there is much inner strength, wisdom and rejuvenation to be gained. We will see that “what was once a breakdown, becomes a breakthrough.”[2] We all seem to have a tendency to scurry around, seeking answers in every direction but within ourselves. I personally found myself going from healer to healer to try to heal myself during my own crisis. However, the best healers/teachers are those who don’t give us the answers, but who guide us to the place where we can find them on our own accord, which is within our own divine wisdom. I found that it is, in fact, important to seek counsel from the right teacher for “without guidance, trust is blind and without trust, guidance is powerless.”[3] A highly attuned professional can help us find the tools within ourselves to use during such times. Success is not something that is gained in the external world by who we become professionally, the status that we attain, and the assets that we acquire. True success is measured by how well we can withstand the hurdles that life throws at us, and our ability to uphold the inner-strength within us while life is testing us to the maximum. Our own humility, and our ability to humble ourselves during this time, is what allows our virtue to grow exponentially. To do this, we must detach ourselves from the desire for specific outcomes. As Erich Fromm (renowned German-American psychologist and humanistic philosopher) states: “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers’’. By stretching ourselves beyond what is ‘known’, we open the doors to a place of faith and trust in the existence of life.


1.    Prather H. The Little Book of Letting Go. Conari Press. Berkeley. ISBN 1-57324-503-8. 2000.
2.    Ma Deva Padma. Tao Oracle. St. Martin’s Press. New York. ISBN 0-312-26998-6. 2002.
3.    Tzu S. The Art of War. A Thomas Cleary Translation. pp 1-38. Shambhala Publications Inc. Boston. ISBN 0-87773-452-6. 1988

Inspired By

Adam P Kushner. Thank you for being my teacher.


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About Amy Suplee

Amy L Suplee LAc MTCM is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Master of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She owns hers own clinical practice called Window To The Sky Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine outside of Aspen, Colorado ( She has published other articles for Positive Health. She is an Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Reiki Master, Reconnective Healer, Spiritual Counsellor, Massage Therapist, and Nutritional Coach. She can be reached by

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