Non-attachment for Beginners (like me)

"Love Locks" from Osaka, Japan 
"We are flawed receptacles of wisdom moving between moments of seeing a little clearly and moments of being in the darkness." --Kaspalita Thompson

I have been on a bit of a Buddhist trip lately. It started with Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac, which I started reading for my bookclub, veered off into Just As You Are: Buddhism for Foolish Beings by Kaspalita Thompson & Satya Robyn, which I read because it was free on Amazon, then back to Wake Up and on to Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki and Why I am a Buddhist: No Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey by Stephen T. Asma, PhD (the latter I am not sure I would recommend, but it has further deepened my understanding of Buddhism, from a decidedly American academic perspective).

Perhaps the most fruitful outcome of all this Buddhist literature has been a rededication to my meditation practice, which had been in a bit of a maintenance mode. I was consistently doing twenty minutes a day, with the odd hour-long meditation thrown in here and there, but it had become something I just "did" because it was something I did, if you know what I mean.

As soon as I started reading Wake Up, however, I remembered why I had started meditating in the first place: to achieve enlightenment.

Seriously. I was a young mother, a sleep-deprived insomniac, on the verge of insanity and full of anger. I wanted OUT of the situation I had found myself in - not parenthood, but the pain of constant exhaustion and worry - and nothing else offered me true escape, true transcendence, so I turned to meditation and I meditated as Pema Chodron suggests, "like my hair was on fire." And it saved me in a sense.

At least it started me down the road of my own salvation, which has been paved with a lot of letting go (caffeine, alcohol, control, anger), a lot of movement (yoga, running, swimming, walks), and a lot of meditation. Except not so much recently.

Twenty minutes a day is a solid practice for a beginner and it is something to aspire to when you are just starting out, but for me, it was becoming rote and I wasn't really deepening my practice at this amount of time. Since I started reading Wake Up, I have had the goal of meditating for an hour every day and I can feel the life in my practice again. I am being challenged. I am having to dig deep to stay in position. I am growing wider in understanding.

One thing in particular that has become clearer to me is the concept of non-attachment. It's like a light went on in that room that was previously dark.

I have always understood the concept when it comes to material possessions. It makes total sense to me that being attached to one's car or one's boat isn't healthy from a spiritual perspective. That's not to say that when both of our sons' new bikes were stolen within months of their purchase I didn't have a hard time with it. I understand the concept, I have yet to perfect it. But I have always struggled with the idea that you should not be attached to other human beings, to relationships.

Our culture it seems is all about being attached. Attachment parenting, monogamy, endless articles in endless publications about how to bond with your children, create a more lasting attachment to your spouse, make lasting friendships - in the area of relationships we are all about attachment. And I have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

When my kids come home from school I make it a point to "connect" with them. I try and keep date nights with my husband on the radar, even if they don't happen as often as they "should." And I am constantly scanning my calendar for opportunities to catch up with this or that friend all under the guise of "attachment." So what is up with the Buddhist thing about not being attached to the people in your life? What is up with that?

This morning during my meditation something shifted and I began to understand this non-attachment in a new way. I began to think about my sons and my husband and to imagine what it would be like to be "non-attached." Surprisingly, instead of feeling odd and weird and just wrong as it has in the past, it felt safe and open and loving.

The Buddha didn't mean by non-attachment that we don't love our loved ones - not at all - only that we don't cling to them. They are not MY son, or MY husband, or MY friend, but rather they are who they are. A fellow human, a soul with a body, an independent and free person that we hold in high regard and for whom we have feelings of affection and love.

But it doesn't stop there. Something about seeing my loved ones in this new non-attached way, also made more room to love others - strangers, acquaintances, even my enemies. My love wasn't targeted, directed, limited, only to those I love and it wasn't for them only when they were making me feel LOVE. It just was. It was a non-attached kind of love and it felt lovely.

It didn't last, of course. Yesterday I mistakenly thought my younger son forgot his lunch and I decided to walk it over to him during his lunch hour. BIG MISTAKE.

I walked into the school cafeteria lunch in hand and with a big smile on my face. My smile dimmed as soon as I approached my son's lunch table. There, spread out before him, was another lunch and there, right in front of me, was my son with a look on his face that said, "WTF?"

"I already have a lunch, MOM," he spat at me. The "duh" was silent.

"I'm sorry," I replied and turned and walked away.

That's right, I apologized.

In that moment I felt so rejected and so small, so disconnected. I had tried to do a nice thing and was lambasted for it. It came out of nowhere. My first truly "teen" parenting moment wherein they experience total embarrassment at your very presence. I can't lie. It hurt. A lot.

I walked home feeling sad and rejected, my insights about non-attachment completely gone. Writing about it now though I can see how attached I was to the idea of myself as THE GOOD MOM, the provider, the rescuer even. And I can see how this idea hurt us both.

So as I sit in meditation today I will hope to re-attach to the concept of non-attachment. To grasp it again and perhaps hold onto it for a bit longer this time.


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