January 10, 2024

What’s the big deal about non-attachment?

philosophy by Jacques de Villiers South Africa

Article 1/365 of Jacques’s Writing Quest

I never considered non-attachment until someone I loved left me to start a new life overseas.

I’d heard that attachment leads to pain and suffering. And, in my case, and in this instance, it was spot on. I was devastated. It must have taken me a year for me to recover from the ‘loss’ of this soul mate. 

I was in a happy place with her and my desire to stay in this place of happiness caused me to attach. I wanted this happiness to stay forever.

Time has moved on, and I’ve healed. I’ve also had time to explore the concept of non-attachment. I’ve realised that everything is ephemeral. You may argue that a 40-year relationship or a 90-year-old life is a long time, but in the grand scheme of the universe it is but a blink of an eye. 

We are all going to lose something or someone on the way to navigating our way to our final loss; our own demise.

Two tricks I’ve been practising which have served me in good stead recently are to not get attached to an outcome, and that I possess nothing.

Detach from Outcomes

Fortunately, I learned not to get attached to an outcome a long time ago. It has served me well. I’ve tried and failed so many times that if I had to take my failures personally, I don’t think I’d be able to function. I’ve asked countless women out, and perhaps a handful have said yes. And, that was good enough for me. I’ve made thousands of sales calls in my lifetime, and a small percentage of those bought what I had to sell. That’s good enough for me. I’ve played thousands of games of chess, and lost most of them. That’s good enough for me. I’ve been lucky because I see life like a game. And, for me, it’s about the joy of the game. I just want to play the game well, win or lose. 

I Possess Nothing

This is a more difficult concept and another story altogether. I’m so used to saying ‘my’ and ‘mine’ that it is coded into my DNA. That’s a harder habit to kick. It occurred to me that I possess nothing. Yet, I think I do. 

That’s ‘my phone’. ‘My house’. ‘My car’. ‘My cat’. ‘My employee’. ‘My wife’. ‘My child’. It’s a better idea to look at ‘my car’ as a car. ‘My phone’ as a phone. Of course, it’s harder to say a girlfriend than my girlfriend. She probably won’t take kindly to me introducing her as a girlfriend, and I’ll be banished to my couch. It’s harder to say a child than my child. 

Since when has any soul in my orbit become a possession of mine? At best, I’m a custodian of a soul for a brief time. Just because I’m practising non-attachment to another human being, it doesn’t mean that I’m uncaring or disassociated. On the contrary, I’m privileged to have custody of this soul’s well-being for a short time. This is a great responsibility, and one that I tackle with love, kindness and compassion. 

I Was Given An Opportunity To Practise Non-Attachment

This practice of non-attachment came in handy recently after ‘my’ a car that I’m driving at the moment, was trashed by hail outside a restaurant I was visiting. The damage was devastating. Typically, after such an incident, I would have felt regret, remorse and recrimination. “Why did I go out tonight?” “Why can’t I have one night without something going wrong?” “Can’t I catch a break?” “Why does this always happen to me?” This, of course, would lead me down the path of where I think something is being done to me, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from victimhood. 

I have to be honest, when I saw the car, I did have a moment of angst. But because I’ve practised not being attached to ‘my’ a car, I recovered quickly. Also, I was distracted by a car guard who was soaking wet and looked really sorry that he couldn’t protect the car. This beautiful human was way more valuable than my a car. It was more appropriate to give him attention and not the car. I thanked him for looking out for the car and gave him a generous tip.

This was a small victory, but I’m convinced the more I practise non-attachment, the more I’ll keep my equanimity in any situation where I perceive a ‘loss’. 

Thinking of possession as custodianship and accepting that everything and everyone eventually comes to an end, including myself, brings me peace and comfort. That can’t be a bad thing, can it? It’s getting late, and I need to shut down ‘my’ computer and go to ‘my’ bed. Night, night.

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