Everybody is attached to something or someone. But one of life’s greatest ironies is this: Letting go can get you exactly what you need.
I wrote about this a decade ago. As I watch some friends seethe and blame our politicians because their kids can’t go to the prom or play on that high school volleyball team, it’s a good time to reflect on attachment and how letting go can become a superpower.
In The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman writes, “When you don’t get what you want, you suffer. If you get it, you suffer too since you can’t hold on to it forever.”
This is the essence of attachment. We always want life to be perfect and so we seek the “things” that are supposed to make it perfect. A college degree. An envied job. A compliant soul mate. Loving parents. A big house. 2.2 children. The latest smartphone. The ideal body. Lots of money. We also work very hard to avoid pain, dulling it with everything from alcohol and drugs to obsessive exercise and over-achievement.
Suffering is usually what results. No matter how we live our lives, pain is an inevitable dimension. When we attempt to avoid it, ignore it, or dull it, it becomes suffering.
Just as having the courage to face your pain is what Khalil Gibran calls, “the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” letting go of attachments can actually bring you closer to the happiness you seek.
For many of us, our deepest attachment is to what others think about us. We avoid conflict, sublimate our dreams, continue with unproductive habits and controlling, energy sucking relationships, living unfulfilled lives as a result. “Your time is limited,” Steve Jobs wrote, “so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
We all have an unworthiness gene floating around inside of us that makes us fear loneliness, abandonment and failure. So we put up with unhealthy situations in the false hope that if we stay in that uncomfortable reality, we will always be loved, successful and happy. The true result is always the opposite. We may outwardly display the trappings of what others may call Success, but inside, we’re still empty.
This is how many companies make money. They market to our feelings of imperfection, with the message that whatever they are selling will make us more perfect. The mantra,”relief is just a swallow away,” rarely addresses the root causes of your unhappiness. Only you can.
Challenging times call for creative solutions. I vividly remember my parents and grandparents telling stories of how World War II restrictions and the excruciating experiences that came with The Great Depression lead to some of their most treasured memories.
So how do we live a rich life in the midst of our generation’s Great Depression?
- Make the decision to be happy – Whatever your situation, happiness is a choice.
- Create your own definition of happiness – Reality check it for attachments. Don’t let others define you.
- Commit to chasing it right now – Instead of thinking about what you would do if you won the lottery, think about how you can express your life’s purpose right now and make a living from it.
- See every bump in your road as a learning experience – You will have good days and bad days. the bad days can end up being amazing gifts, if you learn from them. Lessons are repeated until learned.
- Be personally accountable – The more you take responsibility for your past and present, the more you are able to create the future you seek.
- Believe in your own value as a human being – You will invariably get what you will accept. Others will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Radiate courtesy, respect, authenticity and joy. It’s likely to be reflected right back at you. If it isn’t remove yourself from the unacceptable and move on.
- Be honest with yourself about your motives – This is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. We love to rationalize. We don’t like to admit the truth. If you can’t do this on your own, empower someone else to call you out.
- Allow yourself to fully feel what hurts – We all carry deep seated scars from past pain that we have kept inside us. If we don’t clear it out, the pain will manifest itself physically in very uncomfortable and frightening ways. Releasing it lightens the heart and brings you closer to peace.
- Believe that every experience can make you stronger – Bad things can temporarily deflate you, but they don’t have to define you.
- Have compassion – We live in a Matrix where everybody is acting like they have it together. Very few really do. Have compassion for the suffering of others. Alleviate it when you can. But don’t own it. You have enough of your own bad juju. Don’t take on any of theirs.
- Have faith – Never lose that fundamental belief that you will find what you seek, move in the direction of your dreams without letting setbacks stop you. You will become a better person in the process.
When I first wrote about letting go, a reader asked about the difference between attachment and commitment? It’s easy to confuse the two, but they couldn’t be more different. If you are committed to manifesting your life’s purpose in every action you take, without an attachment to the outcome, you will find what you seek.
Attachment is something we decide to do when we are unwilling to trust in the miracle of a self-actualized existence that is accessible to all of us. Everybody is attached to something or someone, so don’t beat yourself up too badly if you’re doing it right now. But remember, one of life’s greatest ironies is this: Letting go sometimes gets you exactly what you need.