Four Ways of Letting Go and Reducing Suffering (with DBT Skills References)


I was so happy to come across this lecture by Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm,  on “Four Ways of Letting Go.”  The principles tie in quite nicely with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment that is often very effective at helping those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other emotion regulation issues, and I’ll elaborate on that more below. 


1. Let go/release the past and the future.

Radical Acceptance is a major part of DBT, and this monk’s description of it bewildered me at first. He describes with some analogies on how to let go of burdens. He makes it sound so simple.  It made me question, “Is it possible that it is that simple and that we just complicate things by refusing to accept them and moving on?”  I’m definitely reflecting upon this concept. 

One thing that he said that definitely hit home and made sense was that when we let past hurts go, we release the power that the situation or person had over us. If we hold on to past hurts, they continue to hurt us over and over again while life (and often the other person) have long moved on.

Accepting that past events happened (while not necessary approving), is Radical Acceptance in action, as is trusting that we will have the tools, resources, and abilities needed to handle anything that may come our way in the future.

2. WANT to be here.

Ajahn Brahm describes any circumstance, relationship, health condition, etc. that you are resisting, fighting, or don’t want to be in, as a prison.  He talks about how we make conscious choices around where we choose to be in our lives and whether we live in ease and in harmony with our circumstances or fight against and live in resistance and struggle.  This is a very interesting concept to me. 

One of the examples he uses is being stuck in traffic. Rather than get upset, curse, and complain, which never really accomplish anything good for our mental or physical well-being, we can find a way to want to be in the traffic.  At first, I laughed and thought that this would be nearly impossible. Imagine being stuck in traffic, running late because of it, and needing to be somewhere important…and somehow shifting your state of mind to wanting to be stuck in traffic.  And yet, I found myself in this very situation today.

A friend and I were heading to the airport, and she needed to catch a flight. We got stuck behind a truck whose driver kept stepping on the brakes. At first, we were frustrated, complaining to each other about this person’s awful driving, and even snickering about what a less than intelligent being this person must be (that’s the PG-13 version of the conversation).

I then realized what we were doing and recalled this segment from Ajahn Brahm’s talk.  I told my friend about it, and we began to make a game out of the brakes lighting up every time the driver stepped on the pedal. We guessed when he would do it and laughed when we right and when we were wrong. It changed the whole experience.  My friend ended up making it on time, too.

3. Give with no expectations of return.

There is rarely an act that is completely and totally altruistic.  We almost always gain something from our kindness, even if it is a feeling that we are a good person or knowing that someone smiled as a result of our act.  But, still, the less we expect in return for our giving, the purer it is.  It’s not about recognition or getting the credit.  There is something about giving with no strings attached that helps us to let go in other areas of our lives.  It’s one of the most beautiful things we can do for one another, whether for a loved one, an animal,  a stranger, or a person in need on the other side of the planet.

In DBT, there is a skill called “contributing.”  One of the benefits of contribution, even when we are not expecting anything in return from the person we are gifting or helping, is that almost inevitably we have the blessing of removing the attention away from our problems and issues for a little while, and we realize that we matter and can make a difference, even if our lives are not “perfect.”

4. Have a Teflon mind.

We talk about the Teflon mind in the online DBT classes that I co-facilitate.  Until hearing this monk’s explanation of the concept, I hadn’t fully gotten it.  I knew that Teflon was the non-stick black coating on pans that keeps food from sticking, but I had never really thought about this DBT concept as meaning to not let thoughts, moods, feelings, etc. “stick” in our minds.

Another aspect of this skill that he illuminated for me is how, when we let things stick in our minds, we can miss the present moment.  He mentioned that we tend to get so caught up in our preconceptions and what we “know” about people, situations, and circumstances, that we often bring our prejudices and “knowing” to the present moment, and we miss out on the possibility that this conversation, this day for this person, this situation – though it looks and feels so familiar to others I’ve had – could be different

When we approach situations as if they are happening for the first time, without expectations that are clouded by prior experiences, we open the door for the possibility to be in the very present moment.

I really enjoyed Ajahn Brahm’s presentation, and I hope you did too, as well as my own reflections.  I look forward to your thoughts.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

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