Learning to let go, to lead a simple and unpretentious life


We can only scale new heights if we are ready to let go of the redundancies. — Photos: LEESAN

Several months ago, after popular Hong Kong-based food critic and my friend, Chua Lam, told me that he had “let go” of many things, especially material possessions, and kept only healthy memories with him, I felt a great sense of relief within myself.

Yes, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Do I still need all this stuff?” and “Can these things still be used?”. After asking this, we should be able to let go of things that we no longer need. This includes deleting social media accounts and meaningless group chats.

I know it is hard to say goodbye to such things when the time finally comes for us to get rid of them. Who will give me the courage and motivation to cut them out of my life permanently? Moreover, we have to sever ourselves from things that are of little practical use but have been stubbornly retained by us for so many years.

Such a resolution, and act of decisiveness, go well with the original meaning of letting go.

This is by no means easy, and I believe there are only a few people who can really let go of unnecessary things, both decisively and thoroughly. And for the time being, I have to admit that I am not one of them.

To be honest, greed is still my greatest weakness, but I am willing to continue pursuing this spirit of letting go, and slowly put that philosophy into practice. This is because I am well aware that all I want is just a “simple and unpretentious” life.

Sometimes, I tend to think that folks who can instantly let go of things must have been either gravely ill, beaten down by major failures in life, or have lost all hope for their future. Otherwise, they must have been people who are no longer interested in the mundane material world and are prepared to transition to a life of abstinence, like monks and priests.

This is not always the case, of course, because if we were to interpret the Japanese expression of “danshari”, its focus is actually on the “attitude of life” rather than to simply declutter. Going deeper, it denotes how we look at ourselves, whether our lives are filled with needs or essentials.

Additionally, we should not be overly obsessed when the need to let go suddenly hits us, as we should try to gradually discard things, as well as the various unnecessary physical or spiritual “labels and redundancies”. Most importantly, we should know exactly what we are doing.

We can only scale new heights if we are ready to let go of the redundancies. — Photos: LEESANWe can only scale new heights if we are ready to let go of the redundancies. — Photos: LEESAN

I have to mention here that while we say we know what we are doing, people still tend to misinterpret the meaning of a “short life”. Some actually feel that since life is short anyway, why not fill it with all the material things that we wish for?

In today’s world, no matter how busy we are or how complicated our lives become, we should keep reminding ourselves that we need to take a brief rest from our hurried pace, and to think about whether we really need so much in life.

Here’s a gentle reminder: The “protagonist” of the “letting go” philosophy is not material items, but ourselves. If you want to live freely and hassle-free, first and foremost you should not have too many things that bog you down.

If we get confused, we need to stop and think whether all the years of being insistent on having everything and wanting to be involved in everything, is actually beneficial to our lives. Most of us find ourselves busily doing things blindly, and without real purpose.

A friend once said to me, “I thought I did everything for the company, staff and family, but in the end I found myself sacrificing quality time that should have been spent with family. Worse still, my health was compromised.”

A loosely translated quote that was written as a preface to To Let Go Or Not To Let Go by Taiwan writer and art historian Chiang Hsun reads: “We could not let go of many things, many places, many precious moments, and many people. But when we reach middle age, we will realise that no matter how hard we are to part with these things, in the end we will still have to let go, as we simply cannot keep everything with us and have to let go of them.”

Most people can’t let go of the past which they are unable to change, and are insistent on the entanglement and anxiety over the future that is beyond their control.

There is also a saying that goes something like this, “Be focused on what you are having right now, experience the truthfulness and beauty of life, and harbour no unnecessary desires and lusts, so that you can live a robust life.”

Even then, we all know that this is much easier said than done.

The columnist (right) with Zongpa, a narrator at Dazhao Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, who has a good understanding of the Tibetan way of life. Her advice is to always live in the moment.The columnist (right) with Zongpa, a narrator at Dazhao Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, who has a good understanding of the Tibetan way of life. Her advice is to always live in the moment.

As my colleagues and I take our travel buddies on winter tours, we remind them to put on layers of warm clothing before we go out in the morning. When we are at a place with a heating facility, we can always take off or “peel” the outer layers (like an onion) until we feel completely cosy.

When the temperature is too high, the clothes that keep us warm will instead become a burden to our bodies. We should adjust in tandem with the changes in the environment, discarding those irrelevant things and relationships, and quitting the environment that is unfavourable to our personal growth or that does not conform to our needs. This is the way to truly transport us to a state of utter comfort and satisfaction.

The “onion skin” approach makes us see that real wealth is not reflected in how much we put on or how much we are in possession of, but whether the things that we possess can really satisfy our needs, or make us feel happier.

Every time I walk into my colleague Louis’s office and see Chua Lam’s book – Putting Down, Seeing Through And Being Free – on his table, I am reminded of Chinese artist Li Shutong’s words, “How can there be so much satisfaction in life? Everything is only half-satisfactory.”

Li happily gave up all his material wealth at a young age of 39, and opted to become a monk for the remainder of his life.

We must learn to be content with what we have and who we are in order to experience the liberation of our inner being, as well as the “lightness” of life.

Treasure life, and learn to live each day meaningfully. Start with converting our “life of addition to a life of subtraction” – hopefully, we all can unload our burdens and set our souls and bodies free.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the globe-trotting traveller who has visited 137 countries and seven continents, enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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