It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it. ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
If you ask me who my favorite Disney character is, odds are I'll say Eeyore. Though I've never read the original books by A.A. Milne, I've seen nearly every animated rendition of the Hundred Acre Woods' characters. Since a young age, this dysthimic donkey has been a character who made sense to me. As a kid who experienced sadness very early in life, who struggled with self-acceptance and self-worth, Eeyore just made sense to me. I may not have outwardly sounded as down or sad as him, but inside, his words clicked. Getting older, I saw this lovable donkey with a deep sense of compassion, and while Milne may not have intended it, Eeyore taught me some important lessons, particularly about attachment.
Almost three months ago, after rapidly selling many of my belongings and donating many more, I got into my 2010 Kia Optima, 102K miles, and I left the Pacific Northwest. Since 2014 when I left Chicago for Cleveland, I'd slowly built up my own life as a single man after a five-and-a-half year relationship. I went from being tethered to a person to being attached to my space, my belongings, and my own self-established sense of security. Here I am now, some belongings stored in a friend's closet, the rest of my things stowed away in the trunk of my car, easily accessible since I'm bouncing around from couch to couch until I leave the country at the end of September.
That Kia Optima now has 111K miles on it, and pretty soon, it will stop being my car. Just like my apartment on SE 82nd and Powell stopped being my apartment. Just like Frankie stopped being my husband. Two months on the road and I finally understand the idea that nothing is forever. Permanence, by and large, is a myth. Relationships come and go. People change. Stuff wears out and stops working.
Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things. ― Arthur Schopenhauer
In every city I've called home, I've built relationships. Some are platonic, some romantic, some sexual, but all of them have significance for me. This summer, after traveling from Portland -> NW Indiana -> Terre Haute -> Atlanta -> Cleveland -> Indianapolis -> Chicago, I've seen the scope of my friendship/relationship building efforts, spending time with amazing people, old and new. With every new departure, there is a letting go, an untethering. I go to a place, anchor myself there for a time, and then let go. While that is relatively easy to do with geographic locations (except for Chicago — I just can't let go of this city), it is so much harder to do with people, especially those with whom I feel a deep sense of connection.
Sometimes, however, that connection, or at least the depth of it, is dissimilar, unrequited. When faced with this disconnect, I'm left with a choice: do I detach myself completely, or do I change the intensity or direction of my own attachment? My gut instinct, being a Four, is the former. It's easier to totally let go and walk away than it is to force myself to stay with the relationship even if it means releasing parts of it that were important to me before. This isn't only with long term friendships. It can be with new ones too, and that's when it feels harder for me.
Detachment means letting go and nonattachment means simply letting be. ― Stephen Levine
In about six weeks, I'm moving to South Korea to teach English for a while. A significant factor in choosing South Korea as my destination is the country's rich Buddhist history and influence. Reading authors like Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron, my interest in Buddhist thought and practice has grown, not as a replacement for my Christian faith but as a compliment, a means by which my connection to Christ is enhanced.
As I understand it, Buddhism does not teach detachment but rather nonattachment. It's not about running away from anything. It's about peacefully and contentedly letting things be what they are, including people. The reality of a person is often different from my ideas about them, just as others' ideas about me are not a comprehensive image of the wholeness of me. When someone else's ideas about me come into conflict with who I really am, there's a dissonance that happens, and vice versa.
When I stop being attached to my ideas or perceptions, that dissonance has space to transform into acceptance. Holding onto my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or ideas white-knuckled often leaves me dissatisfied. But accepting things, situations, and people for who they are allows for both a deep connection as well as the freedom of self-differentiation. I get to stop having expectations of others, and they get to stop having expectations of me.
So much of my life right now is new in ways I never experienced until now. Sometimes that newness is exciting and eye-opening. Other times, it can feel scary, uncomfortable, or even painful. But by practicing nonattachment, by being present in any given moment, I'm able to experience peace, freedom, and the space simply to be.
photo credit: Bob Bales (via Flickr)