“Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
A wise old soul once told me that I needed to practice not being attached.
I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I remember he gave me a very intelligent and understandable definition of attachment, but because it made such little sense to me, there was very little I could do with it. It was incomprehensible.
I have found that, like the definition of attachment, it isn’t the teachings themselves that give us the answer; it is our own discovery, in our own experience, of the truth and wisdom of the lessons.
At that point in my life, I hadn’t discovered for myself what being attached looked or felt like.
I was doing the “normal” things a “normal” person does. I had gotten through school, failed at a few relationships, bought a house, got a car payment and a cat, and was building a business.
Life was just going along, seemingly building on experiences and things as the years went by. I was building the life I thought would make me happy.
I had been practicing not being attached to material things. But that wasn’t a grueling stretch for me. I had grown up in two modern American households where I never had to wonder if we would have food to eat or if my dad would buy me those ever so important designer jeans. Life was fine; everything was going my way.
Then, like magic, life started to give me opportunities to discover for myself what those smart people were really teaching about attachment.
Two years ago, I lost my house. I remember my mother asking me if I was really sad to be losing the house where both of my children were born. I was embarrassed that the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I thought there was something wrong with me that I hadn’t put any significance on that.
Ah Ha! My first discovery about attachment: I had the choice to give significance to any circumstance. I could choose to make it mean something that caused me to suffer, or not.
I thought, “Hey, I’ve got this un-attached thing mastered.”
Very recently I was blind-sided with the possibility of losing the business that I have spent the last 15 years creating.
There was no shedding of blood or sweat (I sit at a computer and on the phone) but I’ve fully invested my heart, my energy, and my spirit in this business. People know me as my business; my identity is tied up in it.
I started looking from every tool and teaching I had ever learned about dealing with challenging situations. I remembered the lesson on attachment. I actually found the notes I had written down, a gift from that wise old soul, so many years ago.
He had said, “Attachment is the emotional dependence we put on things, or people, with some degree of our survival interwoven into the precious thing we hold so dear.”
I had practiced not being attached to “stuff.” But for heaven’s sake, this wasn’t stuff! This was my business!
But the lesson doesn’t say: don’t be attached to material items. It says, don’t wrap yourself, your identity, and your survival around anything or anyone.
Ugh. I guess that means my business too. That thought annoyed me, and I was vehemently resisting even considering that.
I’d gotten angry at the circumstances that caused this to happen. I’d made myself wrong for putting so much into something that seemed to be real, but turned out to be quite elusive. I played the victim and wondered why in the world this was happening to me.
And then I realized that all of that chatter in my head, and all of that upset and suffering was a function of me throwing a childish little (ok big) temper tantrum because things weren’t going the way I wanted them to go. The universe was not aligning itself around what I wanted.
And then I had another thought: maybe all of that stuff I did and built, to have the life I wanted, wasn’t it. What if I didn’t know better? What if the universe was providing me with what I needed?
What if what I needed to get what I really want in life—peace and happiness—looked different than what I had imagined?
That was worth pondering. If I was brutally honest with myself, my business didn’t bring me real joy; it was just something I was good at.
I thought, “Wow, maybe this is the opportunity to really pursue what I want to do with the rest of my life! What if the universe was just gently pushing me out of my comfortable nest, and forcing me to fly?”
And thus I have discovered: Sometimes the dreams we chase and the life we design for ourselves really do provide us with happiness and peace, and yet sometimes it takes letting go, and having faith like we have faith in our next breath, that there is a divine and perfect order; we just might not be seeing it at the time.