I just came across Pema Chödrön's March 2005 article, The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience. As I've written before, I'm not a Buddhist, but I've learned a lot from Chödrön's writings and often look to her for guidance.
The following passage from the article made me think about the many things I hold onto past the point of usefulness--certain ways of doing things, beliefs about myself and others, even my perspective on the world--and how liberating it can be when I let go and open myself up to alternatives. But Chödrön also provides a healthy reminder that it takes patient effort to explore and understand these things, and that sometimes it's best to focus on small ones before addressing big ones:
[W]henever there is pain of any kind--the pain of aggression, grieving, loss, irritation, resentment, jealousy, indigestion, physical pain--if you really look into that, you can find out for yourself that behind the pain there is always something we are attached to. There is always something we're holding on to...
...After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you're there, at a point where you realize you actually have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften...
It requires enormous patience even to be curious enough to look, to investigate. And then when you realize you have a choice, and that there’s actually something there that you’re attached to, it requires great patience to keep going into it. Because you will want to go into denial, to shut down. You’re going to say to yourself, "I don't want to see this." You'll be afraid, because even if you're starting to get close to it, the thought of letting go is usually very frightening. You may feel that you're going to die, or that something is going to die. And you will be right. If you let go, something will die. But it's something that needs to die and you will benefit greatly from its death.
On the other hand, sometimes it's easy to let go. If you make this journey of looking to see if there's something you’re holding on to, often it's going to be just a little thing. Once when I was stuck with something huge, Trungpa Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, "It's too big; you can't let go of it yet, so practice with the little ones. Just start noticing all the little ways you hold when it’s actually pretty easy and just get the hang of letting go."
That was extremely good advice. You don't have to do the big one, because usually you can't. It's too threatening. It may even be too harsh to let go right then and there, on the spot. But even with small things, you may—perhaps just intellectually—begin to see that letting go can bring a sense of enormous relief, relaxation and connection with the softness and tenderness of the genuine heart. True joy comes from that.