Thursday, June 6, 2013

Attachments

Not as Attached to Things 

There was a time when choosing the word “attachments” as the title of a piece of writing would not involve any second guessing about possible misinterpretation of my subject. Let’s be clear at the outset – this is not about the computer files most of us connect to our emailed correspondence as part of our regular work and personal lives, although I’m sure the part of my private and professional life that involves staring at two buttons that read “attach” and “detach” every time I attempt to connect with someone and share information with them, certainly had a part in inspiring this piece. So too did someone at my last job who one day profoundly and casually declared “as I get older, I am not as attached to things.” It got me thinking about both the wisdom and sadness of this statement, and whether I considered it in general a good move.

When we are young, we often hear our elders warn us “don’t get too attached!” They witness our eagerness to define ourselves and our lives through our private and public connections with a mixture of hope and cynicism, wanting us to do better than they did at establishing a harmonious coexistence of the world outside and the world within, but knowing that not one of us has an easy time getting there, and in fact, most of us fall short. Still, I think attachments to persons, places and things can bring us more joy than misery in the long run, as long as they don’t take precedence over our primary attachment to ourselves.
  
Other People’s Energy Is Not My Energy

This is how getting older can at least in one way be a liberating not an inhibiting phenomenon. Most of us arrive at middle age having survived the consequences of becoming too attached to a variety of things – jobs, relationships, dreams, plans, expectations, standards of living that have outlived their usefulness but continued to structure our lives and self-images, or fallen apart and left us suddenly lost. We’ve let other people’s needs and feelings define who we are and what we do. We’ve given precious time dwelling on losses when we could have been rebuilding and renewing. Somehow, achieving a half century of living makes it okay to take care of ourselves for once, do what we really want, and not feel guilty anymore.

In spite of the more reckless and messy versions of what has earned the infelicitous phrase “mid-life crisis,”  I think this release from guilt, which often leads to release from all sorts of living and working situations way past their expiration date, and a second chance at some situations way overdue to be experienced and enjoyed, is a good thing. I think it is not just a function of rebellion, exhaustion, or even an entitled assertion of pride, but the fact that the older you get, the larger a picture your life becomes, and when you hit fifty, most likely more than half that picture is in the past, and less than half is still to be created, so being held back by any person, place or thing is no longer an option, and that includes being held back by your own fear, doubt or guilt. 

It’s a matter of quality of life. At twenty, one can risk bad alliances, missteps, putting up with circumstances that fall into the category of “paying your dues” or “learning experiences” or “sacrifices made for the greater good.” At fifty, most of your biggest sacrifices better be made, dues paid, and lessons learned, leaving you free to enjoy who you know yourself to be and what you know makes you happy, with no time and energy to spare setting that aside for anyone, or anything. Life is not only too short, but it’s getting shorter every day.
 
Just Detach

Which doesn’t mean being completely selfish and disconnected, just a little, just enough to do what’s right for yourself, which does require hitting the “detach” button occasionally. I’ve found it actually makes you a better person and more useful in the end to everyone and everything you are connected with, maybe because it clears the way to make new attachments or renew old ones in better ways. As someone in the middle ground between a period of detachments that have taught me to be perhaps a little wiser, but no less willing, in my future attachments, this is my story, and I’m sticking to it.  

2 comments:

  1. I am at least as attached to things as I ever was. The things I am attached to have changed though. Some of them are material - beauty in a range of forms. I would not willingly relinquish your photos for example.
    I am attached to peace, and to solitude, and to the natural world. And these attachments continue to grow.
    I do need to work harder on being kind to myself. A work in progress. Some at least of the early training which said to think of yourself is selfish and wrong still lingers. With luck I will rid myself of it soon...

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    1. Dear EC - no wonder you got that blogger award (yes, I do still silently follow you from time to time!) you are simply the best soul I have encountered in this strange meeting place where online connections have their own issues of attachment and detachment. I would agree, my attachment to beauty, whether it is natural, material, philosophical or comes in the form of human kindness, is something I won't ever give up. Many people have done so, and it comes to no good.

      There is nothing selfish or wrong with who you are and how you live your life. You deserve the very best you or anyone else can give you. May the last lingering traces of that training soon fade. This comment means the world to me, my dear.

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