“Desire nothing, and you’re content with everything. Pursue things, and you’re thwarted at every turn.” — Ryokan
“I have no idea of what tomorrow will bring, so I wish to prepare for it.”
“You fear tomorrow — not realizing that yesterday is just as dangerous.”
The delightful short tale by Anthony de Mello underscores how our attachments to the past can be equally harmful.
We must release our hold of yesterday’s concerns and bring our awareness to the present moment, if we seek contentment.
It’s a given that most people want to experience happiness and joy. There are many ways to achieve it and while some attain it, others don’t. However, it is no less a central desire to seek fulfillment in our everyday life.
We want happiness to fill the cup when pain overflows. Yet the irony is we experience more pain and suffering than joy allows.
We attach our desires to people and situations, holding on tighter than we should. We stress about matters that impose upon our happiness and become discouraged.
Things don’t always go as planned. People let us down. The road ahead gets bumpy.
Buddhist author Lama Surya Das writes in The Big Questions: How to Find Your Own Answers to Life’s Essential Mysteries:“As Mark Twain said, ‘It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble, but what we are sure we know’. We attach to one or more particular ways of seeing ourselves that, neither accurate nor helpful, entrap us in mind-forged forged manacles, self-limiting beliefs, and unfulfilling, misdirected behavior patterns and desires. We fall into living as we are not and lose who and what we actually are.”
The Art of Detachment
“He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment.” — Meister Eckhart
Detachment means to disassociate yourself from intended outcomes. It requires letting go of fixed ideas how life should be.
If you commit yourself to getting what you want, you set yourself up for pain.
For example, if you base your day on your partner’s mood or getting the next promotion at work, you allow outward conditions to dictate your feelings. You are trying to control your world instead of trusting the process of life.
“Normally we think we see reality, but what we see is our own subjective perceptions, filtered through all of our associations and desires, as well as through language and conditioning,” states author Ezra Bayda in The Authentic Life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear.
Let Go of Attachments
“You are only to perform your duty without an eye on their fruits.” — Bhagavad Gita
This requires practice, though it is possible to let go of attachments that no longer serve you.
You might ruminate on the past while holding on to things that don’t matter anymore. What if you were to enjoy the richness of the present moment instead?
Make it a point to let go of anything that’s not for your highest good, especially expectations.
Do you often worry about the future?
Do you base your feelings on whether you are moving forward in life?
Either way, make it a priority to let go of attachments by cherishing the depth of each moment. Move beyond your negative thoughts and allow life to be exactly as it is.
Letting go is grounded in the wakefulness of the present moment being perfect as it is. Whilst you expect things to be a certain way, detachment means to let go of these thoughts.
“When we see through our attachments by fully experiencing them, the result is freedom. When we can see and experience life without the filters of our judgments and demands, the result is appreciation and the quiet joy of being. When we see through our fears, the result is love,” states Ezra Bayda.
Let Go of Expectations
“Non-attachment is self-mastery: it is freedom from desire for what is seen or heard.” — Patanjali
Expectations set you up for disappointment. Whilst it’s normal to receive respect and love from others, sometimes people don’t return the respect or love you deserve. Happiness means acknowledging this, so you avoid hanging your hopes on people fulfilling your emotional needs.
If we are attached to life being a particular way, we are assured of being hurt when things do not follow as expected.
The solution, you ask?
Consider psychotherapist David Richo’s view in The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them:“We cannot take refuge in feeling good, because that cannot be sustained. What is sustained and sustaining is a yes to what is, ‘taking the good with the bad’. This can only happen when we have no attachment to how things should be.”
Let Go of Outcomes
“To renounce things is not to give them up. It is to acknowledge that all things go away.” — Shunryu Suzuki
Do you want to work toward your goals and dreams while letting go of outcomes?
Focus on pursuing what is meaningful and give it your undivided attention. People pursue what they consider will make them happy, yet remain miserable now.
To work towards a prosperous future, flow with the currents of life instead of being on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.
Steady is the way.
Author Jan Frazier offers the following wisdom in The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is: “When you are free, you no longer experience attachment — to the roles you play, to possessions, to ideas, to the outcome of action, to the people you love. You are free of ferocious desire, of the driving ‘need’ to get (and keep) what you want.”
Fulfilment Comes From Within
“To become free of attachment means to break the link identifying you with your desires. The desires continue: They are part of the dance of nature. But a renunciate no longer thinks that he is his desires.” — Ram Dass
As much as we want to believe that success and happiness happen ‘out there’ — it simply isn’t true.
Happiness and fulfillment emerge from within.
Ask those who are content what their secret is and many will tell you, they learned to simplify life and let go of attachments.
They loosened their grip and allowed life to serve them. They are grateful for the pleasant and unpleasant moments because both experiences contain the seeds of opportunity for growth.
They are unattached to how life should develop and trust every experience serves their highest good.
Think back to a time you released your attachments to something.
Maybe it was resentment or holding on to a particular point of view. As you let go, you no doubt felt relief and moved on.
That is the significance of letting go. You let go to move forward, instead of dragging the past behind with you.
“When you are unattached, you have inner freedom. You have no investment in a particular outcome, and so you do what is necessary in the moment. You explore every option and are receptive to all new information. You do all that you know to do, and then trust, because you have no attachment to either the result or how the result is produced,” affirms authors Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom in The Power of Flow: Practical Ways to Transform Your Life with Meaningful Coincidence.
So, release your hold on tomorrow. Do not blemish the present moment with your attachments of how it should be.
If you are anxious about a particular matter, simply let it go. Drop it as though I were handing you a hot piece of coal.
Keep letting go until you get to a place of nothingness and have released all attachments and suffering.
Only then will you know true peace and joy in its entirety.