I had a couple of opportunities this evening to practice non-attachment, including when I clicked “Don’t Save” instead of “Save” on a document. Then, just as I was getting ready to post this, the fire alarm went off in my condo. One of my neighbors had burned her toast. Almost an hour later, I want my dinner. It will be easier to practice non-attachment after I’ve had it.
Aiming for non-attachment
by Rebecca Crichton, Seattle, Washington
I don’t remember when I started telling jokes about ‘senior moments,’ a phrase that I think is now considered politically incorrect. I was in my 60s and there were times I couldn’t retrieve a name or remember what I was doing. I wasn’t alone; my age-mates all had the same gaps between what they wanted to remember and what they were able to retrieve.
My latest effort to put things in perspective is to value learning to let go. More than academic exercise reminding us that everything changes, everything eventually dies, we have ample opportunities to reframe those moments of loss as practice for true non-detachment.
Examples from this past week include the day I couldn’t find my prescription glasses. I admit that glasses are at the top of the list, right next to cell phones and keys, for things that go missing. Usually they are located relatively easily. Glasses can be on top of our heads; keys are in pockets or under car seats; phones could be anywhere. Mine is often in my hand as I search for it.
I looked everywhere for my glasses. Purse and pockets, shelves, drawers, the refrigerator. Nowhere. Nada. Had I thrown them away? I love those glasses. They combine Harry Potter with a Chinese professor, and are black and grey and match my hair. I didn’t want them to be gone.
The next day, I purchased a $20 gift card from Bartell’s as a present for my building’s Angel Tree. Somewhere between the purchase and unloading my groceries, it disappeared.
I traversed the territory from upset to accepting, finally arriving at the ultimate end: I could buy new glasses. I could get a new gift card. I needed to stop obsessing since I could feel the tension in my body and hear the critical voice in my head telling me I was losing my mind, to say nothing about being terminally irresponsible.
The night of the lost glasses, as I took the stack of pillows off my bed, there they were, shining up at me. They looked perfectly comfortable resting against the sea foam colored sheets. They might have been saying, ‘You could just put us here when you make your bed each morning and we’ll wait patiently until you get back, all safe and sound.’
As for the gift card, I discovered it tucked it into the bag of groceries.
Now for the Magical Thinking part. I believe that had I not let go of finding those two things, they would have remained in the holding Realm of Lost Objects, just waiting for permission to be retrieved. They are there to teach us to give up on them, but be kind to ourselves. To accept that everything changes, nothing is permanent.
Steven and Ondrea Levine, two famous Buddhist teachers who worked in the field of Death and Dying, told a story about a Thai monk.
Once someone asked a well-known Thai meditation master, “In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence, how can there be any happiness?” The teacher held up a drinking glass that had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, “You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise.”Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying
It is hard to live that philosophy. We attach to things and to people. We want to be in control of our lives. We feel better when we know where things are, what is happening next, who we will be seeing, Zooming or talking with.
Nonetheless, when I let go of frantic efforts to retrieve things or decide that I can live without something ‘right this minute,’ there is a wave of relief. A lightening of tension and stress.
“There you are,“ I actually said to my glasses. “Nice to see you again.”