In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?
And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?
How do we reconcile this paradox?
I think I figured it out. Ready?
I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.
Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.
Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.
In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.
The first thing we commonly have backwards:
A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.
B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.
And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:
C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.
D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.
So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.
I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):
I am currently doing the work of reconciling with the uncomfortable truth that many people are intimidated by how I show up. And many people misperceive what I do and say, based on their own insecurities and baggage.
I am doing the work of bearing the fruits of understanding that I am different in many ways from most of the people I am acquainted with.
My devotion to a spiritual path differentiates me from most people. My commitment to cultivating skillfulness is relatively unsurpassed by those most commonly in my midst. My values, ethics, and codes of conduct are more honed and far less wavering. And it all creates a divide, whether I like it or not.
I am challenged with how to express this to the people in my circle, as I imagine most would hear this and think that I am full of myself, but that is not what’s going on here.
Simply stated, I am now coming to terms with the reality I feared unfolding a few years ago, when I stepped on the path of making a conscious effort to stop dimming my light – I am outshining others and finding that I am in a league of my own.
Food for personal thought:
Maybe it’s not that I need to find others who can keep up with me, maybe it’s that I need to be more accepting of the fact that I am leading the way.
What do I see as the difference between self-confidence and ego?
What do I see as the difference between being self-possessed vs being cocky?
Note: My sense is that the above meme is one of those “not really from the Buddha” quotes (which is very common), as the phrasing seems off to me personally. But I include it still because I think it is good quote (and, of course, I could also be wrong about it not being from the Buddha, too!).
This is me trying to make sense of things for myself in terms of discovering what my own work is here and what’s fueling my own personal discomfort. I reckon this will be a hard post for me to put into words, but here’s to giving it a whirl:
I bristle and inwardly step back from people who self-identity as activists. And I do the same for vegans. Why? It’s not because I’m against what they stand for or the active choices and priorities they’re making in their life. It’s the energy behind the actions I’m not a big fan of. No one enjoys being talked at by someone who is fired up by something – even when that something is important. And really, even talking with someone who doesn’t share your exact standpoint and lifestyle can be incredibly tricky. Even under the best circumstances, well-intentioned people can cause more harm than good. Just because we have good intentions, doesn’t mean we know how to engage with people in such a way that fosters connection, kindness, and understanding. Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing good, the impact we have on others is harmful. Having good intentions doesn’t automatically inoculate us from causing damage (I recently learned this in a 2-month long weekly class series on developing racial literacy that I just finished).
I’ve been recently making my way through the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings one by one, alongside a friend of mine who’s doing the same. We’re spending two weeks on each training – reading it every day and occasionally journaling about what comes up for us in regards to it. Then we meet once a month to talk about what we’ve discovered for ourselves. We’re on #3 right now: Freedom of Thought. The first two are: Openness and Non-attachment to Views. The first three of the fourteen all have to do with our mind – just as the start of the Eightfold Path starts off with Right View. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts we make the world.
It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to be an activist (and oftentimes a vegan), without being attached to views. So I suppose I could say that I shy away from people who seem to be overly attached to their views in regards to something in particular. Whether it be politics, the environment, lifestyle choices, matters of injustice, etc., I gravitate away from folks who I see as over-identifying themselves with a certain subject. I’m not saying it’s the right way to be or that I don’t have work to do around this, mind you, this is simply me stating a self-observation.
I follow Tiny Buddha on twitter (see image credit above) and really appreciate what they put out into the twitter-sphere. I re-post a lot of their memes on our sangha’s Be Here Now Community facebook page. I came across this one above just the other day and it fits exceptionally well into a subject that’s been alive for me lately, both pre and post my solo spoken word performance and album release last Friday, on the nature of inspiration vs. intimidation.
Along these lines, I penned this in my journal early this morning:
I’m aware that I am a person who shows up big. Even when I’m not saying anything – even when I’m just…sitting there. I know because I know. Because I have eyes and ears and an open heart that renders me observant. I know because people have told me. And it’s not as though I’m putting on airs or trying to show up in a certain way. Still, it translates in generally one of two ways, depending on how comfortable the other person is in their own skin whilst in my midst. My “bigness” is either inspiring or intimidating, and sometimes it’s a mixture of both at the same time.
It used to be that I was inclined towards over-caretaking for those who were left to feel inferior in my wake, by dimming my light and trying to ratchet down my “bigness.” But I’m realizing more and more that this is not a sound plan. Adjusting my light to compensate for the insecurity of others only serves to limit who I really am.
My work is to do my work, to be as kind and full-hearted as possible – and have that be not only enough but ALL of it. People will have the experiences they do, whether I show up big or cower back from fear of causing others offense or discomfort. It’s not my job to manage their energy (as though I even could!), as long as I’m doing my very best to be as skillful and loving as possible.
This is a practice I imagine I’ll be working on for the rest of my days. Because while I’m invested in continuing to shine my light and showing up how I show up, I’m also concerned with the energy exchange that occurs in relationships, and want to be sensitive to how I might overpower people in certain situations. I’m aware that not every moment is a time to shine. Sometimes the best action is non-action, to step back a bit and allow others the space and opportunity to do their thing. Sometimes I do need to dim my light, in order to get out of someone else’s way, so they can shine.