What Tibetan Monks Taught Me About Letting Go
Michelle Boon, Programme Director
In Tibet, there is a group of monks who undergo years of training learning to create beautiful sand art. The sand art, also known as a sand mandala, often takes weeks to complete and requires intense concentration, teamwork and skill.
The philosophy of the sand mandala is deeply rooted in Buddhism, symbolism and our journey through life. With all the time, effort, and patience put into the process of making these mandalas, you would think that these intricate pieces of art be kept as is to be admired and gazed upon in awe. Yes, these are created in public accompanied by special ceremonies to only be ritualistically destroyed by the very people who have painstakingly laid each grain of sand in place.
THAT. WAS. POWERFUL.
Simultaneously, I began examining my own existence and ability to do what these monks were able to do on a daily basis. And I found all my years of planning and accumulating wealth and knowledge unraveling. I had so many questions.
What if I can’t let go?
Does everything ultimately mean nothing?
What have I been doing with my life?
How can these monks just spend weeks creating something so wonderful only to purposely destroy them?
Does that mean that my making plans have absolutely no point?
What control do I have of my life?
Do I have anger issues?
Why do I often ponder about what happened in the past?
Am I really dead?
Just for context, I ask myself these questions everyday. Well. Almost everyday.
Lesson #1 — Letting go because nothing is permanent
The past few months have affected me in some ways, and I refused to acknowledge that until recently. Holding on to the past has been a day-to-day pastime for me, i.e. fantasising the what-ifs and the injustice I’ve had to experience. My expectations of the world were not realistic and that would fuel my anger because why shouldn’t the world become what I want it to be? I blamed the world for my problems, but never once did I ever try to understand that perhaps there was a fundamental problem at play.
Sidenote: Why do I have a disdain for Frozen’s Let It Go? (Forgive me all you Frozen fans, that song is my emotional trigger).
Perhaps I was afraid of truly letting go of the anger and resentment I have accumulated over the years. They were the only feelings I held on to, because I could control them — my feelings. What would be left of me if I let those feelings go? Would I lose myself? Was I fearful of the person I would become?
I realised then that I fear that I will be forgotten; to become a pile of nothingness.
The philosophical and literal sense of letting go for the Tibetan monks had me flabbergasted for weeks on end. It didn’t make any sense. I struggled as I searched for meaning behind what they did. According to my better half, I was having a nervous breakdown. I didn’t think so but being constantly berated others and extreme emotional fluctuations might have proven otherwise.
What letting go meant to me was ultimately a shift in mindset. For a moment, I stopped blaming anyone nor myself and I accepted the past and today’s reality. I was at peace.
At least for the next few hours, I thought I was.
Lesson #2 — Letting go requires practice and discipline
The art of letting go is not only about shifting mindset, but practising this constant shifting whenever the mind is interrupted by these negative thoughts.
Overcoming negativity is not like after slaying a monster in your dreams, where you’ll live happily ever after. It is continuous and it will evolve.
Perhaps that’s why these monks had to train every day for years.
It is a discipline that requires awareness and practice. I finally understood that it is a work in progress. Some days, I find myself asking: “Will I be able to sweep aside all my ‘sand art’ and be totally fine?” And will I be able to master what the monks have?
I certainly hope so.
My partner and I just celebrated our first Illumiversary (Illuminairre’s first anniversary) and that inspired this deep search for meaning and reflection.
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If you’re interested to know more about Tibetan sand mandalas, you can read more here.