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The art of letting go: when detachment leads to well-being

What does it really mean to let go? Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, Zen master and pacifist leader, and one of the highest spiritual authorities of our time, helps us to understand the meaning of detachment and how it can lead to physical and mental well-being. Many people confuse detachment with emotional disconnection from others but, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, letting go often means loving someone more than ever before.

Although Buddha teaches that non-action is an integral part of the Right Way, if taken out of context this prescription may give the impression that it is a lack of interest in others and that it would be desirable to live without experiencing or expressing any emotion. The Noble Path, also called Ariyasaavaka, is not in fact an act of physical retreat or a form of austerity but on the contrary a path of immersion.

As Master Hanh explains, in order to really be able to let go, and feel good with oneself and with others, one must learn to love completely. Non-attachment only occurs when love for another person goes beyond personal expectations of gain or obsession with achieving the result one has set oneself to achieve. Hanh describes four forms of complete detachment that have nothing to do with retreating to a hermitage or ignoring all those who do not reciprocate our feelings: Maitri, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha.

The four forms of detachment

The first form of detachment is called Maitri and has to do with the intention and ability to convey joy and happiness. In other words, to make others happy we need to investigate their real needs and instead of insisting on offering what we think will serve them, we need to learn to offer what they want, not necessarily through words, and detach ourselves from the selfish need to please them. Karuna is instead the compassion that manifests itself when an individual can perceive the suffering of another and wants to alleviate it. In this sense, detachment manifests itself when we move away from the result and simply try to alleviate the suffering of another individual.
Mudita, or selfless joy, as Buddha would say, manifests itself when we are overwhelmed with gratitude for all that we have without clinging to results, but we can also be happy with the happiness of others. Finally, Upeksha, the fourth and final form of detachment. Upeksha means equanimity understood as the effort that is made to see things objectively without prejudice and attachment. People often confuse Upeska with indifference, making mistakes. Because it means loving without discrimination.

The art of letting go as a wellness practice

Letting go can become a real way of life. You don't have to practice Buddhism to understand that to feel good you need to detach yourself from those behaviours or feelings that can alter your physical and mental well-being.

Some people have difficulty letting go of the pain or other similar emotions because they are part of their comfort zone and identity and without them they would not be able to define themselves.

Whatever the origin of the suffering, a loving relationship, an unaccepted physicality, an unsatisfactory job or a friendship, one tends to remain in the status quo for fear that, once done backwards, the consequences might not be as hoped for. And in doing so, they accuse themselves of weakness on a physical as well as a mental level. The body suffers and manifests discomfort through anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Learning to say no to bad behaviours becomes an imperative to be well. How do you practice the mantra "it's not good for me, I should leave"? It's not easy. But in the end, often, it has already been done unconsciously, and you notice because it manifests itself in the form of inner doubt. The secret is to listen to oneself and one's doubts and to indulge in what makes us feel better, interrupting the painful addictions that make our lives frustrating and distance us from the search for happiness and physical and mental well-being. This is all the art of letting go.

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