Read Buddhist literature, and you’ll probably come across the term ‘grasping’. It refers to the idea of desperately pursuing or clinging to people, objects, situations and so forth. Grasping at things causes negative emotions such as jealousy, inadequacy and fear of loss to arise. We often labour under the illusion that the things we’re grasping after will make us happy, but in reality our desperation destroys our inner peace.
Worse, clinging to things too tightly can ironically make us more likely to lose them. Imagine you have a partner you’re terrified to lose, so you constantly ask for reassurance that they still love you. You feel jealous and afraid when they text other people, becoming upset and moody and maybe even lashing out at your partner. Behaving like this may cause your partner to get fed up and leave – the very thing you’re most afraid of!
Sometimes we are convinced that we just need to get that job, date that person or move to that place, and all our troubles will be over. We spend ages mourning our lack of these things. But when we get them, we find we still aren’t happy.
Many of us resist the present by grasping at the way things ‘should’ be. We can’t accept our situation because we’re so convinced it should be different. This is particularly damaging when we cling to the past, which by definition we can’t change. We can never be at peace as long as we are living in a time that no longer exists.
Another form of grasping is the need to have opinions. Many of us cling dogmatically to what we believe and rarely question whether it is true. This can end up hurting everyone involved – think parents who disown their children because of their sexuality, for example.
Sometimes, we may not be sure what we believe about a certain issue, but we feel the need to form an opinion anyway. And once we’ve decided, we cling to it, despite our original indifference.
What can we do?
Most of us could benefit from letting go a little – or a lot! This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to improve our lives, but we need to be mindful of how we do it. We must trust that what we need is coming to us in time, and there is no need to cling to it.
Rather than fearing change, we must realise that nothing is ever permanent. Situations are like a river, ever-flowing, so we can learn to go with the current rather than fighting against it. We can accept where we are and work with it.
When we stop grasping, a surprising thing sometimes happens. We may find that the things we were grasping after simply come to us with little effort on our part. Letting go can make us happier, more confident and less insecure, which paradoxically may attract people and opportunities towards us.
When it comes to opinions, we can come to accept that sometimes we just don’t know the answer. We don’t always need to have an opinion about everything! Sometimes it can be very freeing just to accept that we aren’t sure. And when we do have a strong opinion, letting go can help us examine it more objectively and become more tolerant of those whose views differ from ours. Again, this can make it more likely that others will come round to our views, as we are able to put our point across calmly and compassionately.