Holding On

In Buddhism, holding on is considered the root of human suffering. When we hold on - whether we hold on to something and push it away, pull it toward, or even hold on in order to ignore - tension is generated. We feel stressed, anxious, edgy. We suffer.

In a teaching called ‘The Three Lords of Materialism’ (in which materialism is equated with holding on), Chogyam Trungpa tells us of three main life arenas in which we cling in the ways discussed above. When under the influence of the Lord of Form, we hold on to objects and / or appearances that allow our lives to seem a certain way. The Lord of Speech sees us holding onto concepts and ideologies. And finally, the Lord of Mind dominates when we hold onto particular states of mind / being.

When practicing meditation, we do not usually identify what, exactly, we are holding on to. We simply let our awareness rest upon the experience of holding when it’s encountered in the body - encountered as tension - and see what happens. The instruction, “Notice any tension and let it dissolve,” encourages precisely this.

At the same time, however, it can be helpful to be familiar with some of the main ways we hold in our lives, some of the main things we hold on to. Knowing I have a tendency to grasp after a sense of being hurt when I feel unheard or unacknowledged (the Lord of Mind, perhaps!?!), for instance, can prove extremely valuable in my day to day.

Imagine I’m in a work meeting. Somebody quickly moves on from a point I’ve tried to make and hurt arises. Knowing this is a common reaction for me - perhaps a too common reaction, a habitual reaction - I can pause when this feeling appears. Turning attention inward, I can locate the hurt in the body and explore. Does it have a sense of fluidity and dynamism, suggesting a fresh and alive response to life? Or is it’s character more rigid and brittle, suggesting I am holding on?

If the latter, I can let my attention rest on the knots taking shape in my belly. Under the warmth of awareness, these will loosen a little. As more and more space percolates through the tangle of my response, I’ll be able to catches glimpses of the world outside this knee-jerk holding. I will be free to see what is actually going on, in other words. And in so doing, free to discern what - if anything - I am going to do next.

- Neil