A practical and empowering approach to the age-old quest to let go of the thoughts and feelings that block happiness, impede change, and hinder self-acceptance
Anyone who has dipped a toe into any of the world’s spiritual traditions knows that letting go and letting be are key. But how? In this fresh, frank, and powerful guide, Peter Russell allows readers to see that the things we get hung up on are generally not tangible problems in the present, but are instead thoughts, feelings, interpretations, beliefs, or expectations we have about them. These are not actual things; they exist only in our minds. And we can strip these “no-things” of their power and let them go by making a simple change of mind. Russell boils this letting go down to remarkably easy methods of accepting, acknowledging, recognizing, and even befriending what we tend to run from. This paradoxical practice generates peace of mind, fresh perspectives, and wisdom in action. In turbulent times like ours, this is a true power, one available to us all.
“Peter Russell’s invaluable book can become an essential companion on your spiritual path.”
— from the foreword by Eckhart Tolle
“Shows that in order to be happier and achieve more, we must embrace the paradox of letting go. As Russell shows, this is not new-age pop psychology but ancient wisdom. It endures for one reason: it works.” — Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind
“The realization that we are not our thoughts is a gateway to liberation. Letting Go of Nothing offers wise guidance and inspiration, pointing to the deep peace and freedom that arise naturally in moments of letting be.” — Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion
Since ancient times, the practice of letting go has been recognized in both Eastern and Western religious traditions as a prerequisite for self-transcendence and spiritual awakening. It was usually equated with giving up all the things the egoic self derives its sustenance from. The sadhus (ascetic mendicants) of India, the Islamic Sufis, and the Buddhist monastics all shared this practice, as did some ancient Greek philosophers such as Diogenes and the early Christian hermits known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, whose lifestyle and practice evolved into the monastic tradition of the Middle Ages.
They all held the belief that to make any progress on the spiritual path, we need to give up everything the worldly self could attach itself to and feed on: first and foremost our material possessions but also our home, rich food, comfort, sexuality, personal relationships, and all pleasures of the senses. The idea behind it was that these practices would deprive the ego or false self of anything it could identify with, thus starving it to death, so to speak. The idea is by no means as absurd as it might appear to us in the twenty-first century, and some of these intrepid explorers of the inner realms, so it seems, did indeed attain self-transcendence and realized “the peace that passeth all understanding,” to use the words of the Bible.
It is safe to say, however, that the vast majority of them remained confined in their egoic sense of self. Many would identify with their religious belief structures, which is to say ideologies, and mistake them for “the Truth that makes you free.” Others developed a strong self-image based on their perceived spiritual status as humans who have renounced everything. In other words, the ego was able to sneak in again through the back door, as it were. Without realizing it, these spiritual practitioners had found themselves trapped again in a conceptual identity. Most of them tended to place excessive emphasis on letting go of externals, thus neglecting the inner aspect of letting go. One could say that, seemingly paradoxically, they let go of everything but failed to let go of no-thing.
Peter Russell’s invaluable book can become an essential companion on your spiritual path. It clearly shows the importance of the inner dimension of letting go, the letting go of attachment to thought as well as to emotions, which are the reflections of thought. These thought forms are narratives that become a dense veil through which we perceive, or rather misperceive, reality. These narratives — the voices in the head — may consist of expectations, complaints, regrets, grievances, worry, and so on. Many narratives, especially the repetitive ones, generate anxiety, anger, hatred, and other negative emotions. These narratives constitute what we might call the unobserved mind. This unobserved mind is responsible for most of the human-made suffering on the planet, both personal and collective.
Most humans are still, almost literally, possessed by thought. They don’t think, but thinking happens to them. The beginning of spiritual awakening is the realization that you are not the voice in your head but the one who is aware of the voice. You are the awareness behind your thoughts. As this realization grows, you begin to derive your sense of identity increasingly from the space of awareness rather than from the narratives in your mind. You are letting go of the identification with thought. Thought is no longer imbued with self!
That is the ultimate letting go, the only true renunciation. You are still able to enjoy external things such as possessions and sensory pleasures, but they lose their overriding importance and their addictive nature. You enjoy them with a sense of detachment, while they last. (Spoiler alert: they won’t last!) You don’t seek yourself in them anymore. Life sheds its absolute seriousness.
I suggest you use this book as a manual for this inner letting go, the primary spiritual practice. What is the criterion for progress on this path? Thought increasingly loses its capacity to make you unhappy! You are less reactive in the face of challenging situations or people. You recognize worry as futile and destructive, so you are able to let it go when it happens. You find inner peace and contentment in the present moment. And perhaps you begin to realize that you are not a person but an essential and intrinsic part of the evolution of universal consciousness.
— Eckhart Tolle