A woman says to her husband, a rabbi, “While you were away, a friend of ours visited us and left two jewels of incalculable value here for me to look after. They’re really lovely jewels! I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before. He has since come to claim them back, and I don’t want to return them. I’ve grown too fond of them. What should I do?”
The rabbi responds firmly, “No one can lose something he or she has not possessed. Keeping those jewels would be tantamount to stealing them. We will give them back…”
She replies, “In fact, they already have been. The two precious jewels were our sons. God entrusted them to our care, and while you were away, he came to fetch them back. They have gone.”
“The Two Jewels”, Like the Flowing River, Paulo Coelho
Attachment to Things
When we talk about attachment, we often discuss it in the context of material possessions. We all know money can’t buy happiness, and we’re aware that there will never come a day when an external object such as a big house or expensive car will make us feel complete, so attaching ourselves and our happiness to these things or wanting them is useless, even dangerous. You can’t buy happiness, right?
Attachment to Life
Taking this concept a step further might help us cope with other realities and difficulties in life, perhaps the greatest of which are death and loss. Most of us, fearing death, become wary of things like heights, spiders, or riding in elevators and airplanes – essentially anything that has a potential to hurt us or bring us closer to death. We fear because we are attached to ourselves, our bodies and our lives. Because of our fear, we may not allow ourselves to enjoy certain experiences or challenge ourselves to grow. We can tip-toe through life if we’re scared enough.
Attachment to People
This fear extends to our loved ones, to the moment when the people we have grown to care for and share our lives with are no longer with us. Losing them seems like a devastating possibility that could bring our worlds crumbling to the ground. This is because not only do we love, but we become completely attached.
Many times we talk about how our fear of loss can be positive; how it can inspire us to spend more time with our family and friends, because we never know when the inevitable will occur. But when it does happen, it is our attachment that can still make the loss feel debilitating and nearly impossible for us to move on.
The Difference between Love and Attachment
Letting go of attachment does not mean that we should or are capable of stopping ourselves from loving with all of our hearts, missing our loved ones, or feeling sad when they’re gone. Movies, society, and western romanticism might tell us that for whomever we lose – spouse, parent, sibling or child – our pain and suffering should amount to the love that we truly felt for that person.
This is simply not true. We can allow ourselves to feel the pain of loss and give ourselves the space to grieve, but we can and should move on. In a way, we kind of have to, eventually. If we don’t, then we are only cutting ourselves short, holding ourselves back.
The Normalcy of Attachment
It has become normal, logical and even expected to fear and oppose death and loss, which stems from our attachment. We cannot imagine not having our lives as they exist now, and we cannot imagine not having certain people in our lives as they are here now.
Let me ask you this – what logic is there in fearing death and loss? Why should we live in constant fear of something we know is guaranteed to occur?
While death and loss are arguably the most terrifying phenomena we face in life, our most powerful enemies, we know that they are insurmountable, so why do we continue to avoid or fight them? It’s like going to battle with or hiding from a nemesis much bigger and stronger than ourselves, day after day, tiring ourselves out, knowing but not accepting that we’re never going to win.
What happens if we do accept these enemies and their power to defeat us? If we learn to live peacefully with the knowledge that one day they will wield their fatal blows, or if we removed our judgment of them as negative things, enemies at all? Perhaps then we could find the courage to live our fullest lives and become truly open to all of its possibilities, loving no less, but perhaps living more courageously than before.
The Law of Impermanence
We might re-frame the concept of death to examine aspects of daily life and learn even more. Take, for example, time and moments. These come and go, are alive and dead within seconds. If we are constantly nostalgic for the past or anxious about the future, we let present moments pass on un-lived and unappreciated. We continue the cycle of fighting the old feared enemy of death, only this time disguised as time and change.
This brings us to another truth that we might embrace instead of opposing – the Law of Impermanence, or Annica in Buddhism. Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said it exactly, “nothing is constant but change”. Or, more simply put, everything is dying. Myself, everything that is important to me, beautiful moments, everything we are and work towards becoming – everything that is or that will be is subject to this rule.
Detachment as Liberation
Understanding and embracing the law of impermanence does not have to be defeating. On the contrary, it can be liberating, when approached with a new attitude of non-attachment.
Detaching ourselves from everything that exists, including ourselves, what we own and what we love allows us to experience these things as if they are borrowed treasures, not possessions that we need or are even entitled to. One of the most powerful tools for cultivating non-attachment is meditation.
If we can become unattached, then we can welcome new people, experiences, moments and whatever change is brought into our lives. It may be difficult at first; there may be a transition period where we feel inconvenienced, hurt and that familiar fear again. Perhaps it is fear of the unknown – that the new people, places, things and moments will not be as good as what we experienced before, but then we have a choice to discover these things courageously and hopefully, or oppose them pointlessly and illogically, wasting precious time and energy.
Nothing Left to Fear
If we can allow ourselves to live in harmony with change in all of its forms, including most significantly time, loss and death, and to appreciate what new doors it opens and opportunities it brings – as well as its inevitability – we can recover more quickly from the hurt it causes. We can also be honest about our own changes, allowing ourselves to grow into our full potential and experience more from life. When we do this, what is there left to fear?
About the author
Pazit is a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher as well as holistic healing therapist. She specializes in Reiki, Pranic healing, and Reflexology. She is also a theater coach and life coach at Vagabond Temple Yoga & Meditation Retreat in Cambodia.