Being Grateful But Not Attached
In Buddhist philosophy one of the most important life ‘skills’ to develop is to loosen ones attachments. I’m not a Buddhist, but as an approach to life it has a lot to commend it but I’ve always struggled with this lack of attachment idea. It’s always seemed to me that my attachments also give me the greatest joy. My wife and family, my friends, my work, my home are all very strong attachments. These are also the things for which I’m most grateful and I’ve been practicing increasing gratefulness. So I’d grown confused, how can I be more grateful but less attached? Over the last year though it’s started to become clear to me that gratefulness and non-attachment are not opposites, they are distinctly different and I can do both. Here’s a few examples of how I’ve been trying to resolve the two in my own life:
- I’m very grateful for the fact that I have enough money to buy most of the things that I could want in life, but I’ve also been practicing not being attached to money, by living a simple life, not buying anything for myself this year and giving a lot of money away to charity
- I’m equally grateful for the time I spend with my friends and family, but I’ve also spent a few weeks away on holiday by myself and I’ve greatly enjoyed the solitude and freedom
- I love our house, lots of space and all the comforts, but I’ve also spent four weeks living in much smaller caravan this year and loved every minute of it
- I love driving my car and listening to podcasts, but I’ve been practicing leaving it in the drive all weekend and just walking and cycling and it’s been a joy
- I get great satisfaction from getting stuck into a project at work, but it’s rarely possible now so I have to find purpose in other ways
- I love spending time with my eldest daughter, but in a few days she’s off to China and within a few weeks of her return she will be off to Japan for the year, so I won’t be seeing her for a long time. I will be practicing vicariously enjoying her adventure and trying not to miss her
Through these and many more examples I’ve developed an increasing respect for the importance of non-attachment. There remain a few thorny issues:
- I’ve realised that it’s my attachment to good health that’s causing me to struggle the most every time a flare knocks me for six. I have a rich life, with many things to enjoy when I’m feeling rough, but it takes me several days to come to terms with my diminished state of health and appreciate the rest of my life
- I know that I was perfectly happy living in a modest one bedroomed flat as a young lad at university, with very little money, but even though I know this intellectually the attachment I have to my current lifestyle is strong. The fear of loosing it gnaws away at me as I get older and closer to being a candidate for redundancy or early retirement, both will require giving up a lot that of things that I currently enjoy
I’m in a flare at the moment, it’s a bad one and it comes after three almost pain free weeks. I’d quickly adapted to my healthy state during those three weeks and started to identify myself in that way. I started cycling again, working harder and recovered a little of my old work ambitions. Then within a few hours I’m shuffling around, out of breath climbing a few stairs and mentally wading through brain fog. My health has gone as quickly as I recovered it, but I still have a great life, what’s dragging me down is my attachment to health and work.
Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost I need to jettison these attachments and focus on what I still have, a loving family, a lovely house, great books and amazing TV series to watch and wonderful foods to eat. Of course these are things to be grateful for, but that doesn’t make them attachments. The problem doesn’t come from being grateful for things while I have them, it’s clinging to them when I don’t that’s the issue. Even if I lost everything I would still have control over my attitude and my ability to enjoy the moment, to savour the little things in life.
So although I’m only a day into this flare I’ve managed to notice this negative pattern of clinging to things I’m grateful for and tried to stop it. I’m focussing on what I do have, rather than dwelling on what I don’t. Even though I’m stiff, weak and in pain, I’ve had a good afternoon, I’ve made the best of it.
When my health returns in a few days or weeks I will embrace it with open arms and jump back on my bike, but in the meantime I will let it go. Next time I suffer a loss, hopefully writing this blog post will have cemented better in my mind the mental discipline that I need to practice not clinging to what I’ve lost, but embracing what I have.
I chose the photo today because when I think of appreciating the simple things in life one of the first things that springs to mind are the clouds in the sky. I’ve practiced ‘looking up’ over the years, and I’m rarely disappointed by the starry sky, or the billowing clouds, and sometimes I’m rewarded by a view like this or a stunning sunset or sunrise.