Giving up vs letting go, my own case study

‘Letting go’ is a great concept that many Buddhists nurture from a young age,
admire and apply on an everyday basis. In the western world ‘forget and let go’ is a
commonly used phrase where one encourages the other to give
up when facing a difficult  situation. This brings me to the big question – Is there an
unthought-of distinction between ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’?

Immediately it would seem that there is no dissimilarity between the two
words, for letting go is surely due to relinquish. However, on searching for the
definition of these correlated words, the answer becomes more apparent. To ‘give up’
means to quit or abandon. We give up on certain habits or actions after being
strongly convinced that this is the correct act to pursue. We give up smoking in
order to preserve a healthier lifestyle. We abandon projects due to the pressure of
circumstances. We may even give up on certain people in order to please others.

Letting go, on the other hand, is an entirely different concept. An initiative
directly connected to the underlying fundamentals of Buddhism – craving (Lobha),
aversion (Dhosha) and illusion (Moha).

Following is an example where I found the fine line between ‘giving up’
and ‘letting go’:

My own case study

My team and I, we submitted a project proposal to the EU office, in which the
Fusion team in Sri Lanka, together with some experts in eNovation4D UK, spent
innumerable hours and days creating the final piece, even enduring sleepless nights
to meet the deadline. The value of the proposal being worth several
millions, it could have done wonders to our charitable work in Sri Lanka.

Yet the heartbreaking providence was that, within two weeks, EU would
confirm its inability to accept our proposal merely due to our failure of attaching a
single paper (a portion of the document). It seemed absurd that such an imperative
proposal was dropped on the lack of one diminutive document! My mind
instantaneously began questioning the reasons for this trivial error. How unjustified
is this situation? As any customary human being would have been, I was helpless and
distraught due to this unfortunate final outcome, and enclosed with fury towards my
diligent member of staff due to his unintended lack of attention to the final
submission. The result was so scandalous that some members of staff took leave due
to illness and incapability to withstand the sudden pressure mounted on them by this
ill-fated circumstance. One argued that ‘we may need a miracle’, this petty comment
increasing my well concealed rage and I argued otherwise, attempting to convince
him that he may be wrong.

Not ready to give up!

What misery had I been presented with? I was overwhelmed by aggravation,
anxiety, desperation and moreover, extreme melancholy. Why was this so? I was
severely engulfed by the idea of ‘winning’ the EU proposal, and I wanted to be so
until I was certain that I had endeavoured every possible route to success.

Hence, convinced that I could persuade the EU to reconsider our proposal, I
took urgent actions believing that we had reasons to justify. A number of emails were
sent back and forth and a number of experts were consulted to identify justifications
as well as to build convincing arguments. We needed an efficient machine in action
to build a case to persuade the EU, but it was only once I had ventured every
prospect that I commenced my unwinding process.

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will
have a lot of peace.” – Ajahn Chah

Imaginary journey: 4 years forward fast track in 1 second

I had overlooked the reality of the process, instead constructing the inevitable
through my imagination, in duration of a second I had envisioned and lived four
years of my life (of winning the proposal). Within this minuscule time I had already won the project, signed the
agreements with EU and spent days with Fusion to develop an implementation plan.
In this brief journey of mindfulness, we are visiting rural communities, delivering
project activities, even celebrating success of some, fighting to avoid failure of
activities, negotiating, struggling, completing tasks, writing progress reports,
presenting at conferences and being recognised as success stories. All this was only a
dream I possessed. A trick of mind. Before me, suddenly they were fading away,
disappearing… into history. I had seen the project’s finality
which I fought to embark on.

It was then that I ascertained a new dawn of peace in my mind.


Did I give up? I believe not. If I had abandoned the effort halfway I would say it is ‘giving up’. Yet I had eliminated all
possible methods of victory, inputting all my effort in attempting to accomplish a
joyful result. And so I will return to my original question. There is a fine distinction
between ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’, where giving up would be abandoning a task due
to intolerance or lack of effort. On the other hand, letting go can only be achieved by
carrying out this task through difficult measures and only when nothing else can be
done to modify the final outcome should one let go. It may be difficult to separate
yourself from your emotional bonds and determined hopes, but at one point in our
lives, we must all, as I have discovered, learn to let go.

(Original blog was co-edited by Devni Liyanage).


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