Love and Non-Attachment – Lessons Learned
I thought to share some of what I’m learning with you after our conversation this morning at church. Today we celebrated a new beginning by writing down those things we are releasing, and burning them in a open bowl on the steps of the church, letting the smoke rise up into the expanding cosmos. We then wrote a letter to the universe (God, Allah, Yahweh) of our vision for 2010.
I also suggested a similar exercise to clients and friends within my newsletter, and in private communications at the turn of the New Year.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned this year is about love and compassion from a position of non-attachment. This required me to give up attitudes and behavior I have grown into over a time span of more than half a century. The act of releasing these attitudes and behavior requires active practice each day, and has not been without tears, heartache, and frantic activity. I’m sure I am not done, and will be given many opportunities to practice over the next twelve months.
In order to understand what I’m talking about, let’s back up just a bit to gain understanding about the difference between love, compassion, attachment and non-attachment. Wikipedia provided me with some excellent reference points, as detailed below.
Ordinary love is usually about attachment and sex, and rarely occurs without self-interest. But, let’s look at this from a spiritual perspective.
In Buddhism, love is about our wish for all beings to have happiness, and all the opportunities and experiences that cause happiness.
Karuna, from Hinduism, is about compassion and mercy, which urges a person to help reduce the suffering of others.
Ishq, or divine love, is the emphasis of Sufism. Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe, and therefore practice to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly. A common belief of Sufism is that through love, humankind can get back to its inherent purity and grace.
The Christian understanding is that love comes from God. The Apostle Paul glorified love as the most important virtue of all. He wrote “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7, NIV)
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is frequently quoted as defining love from the Jewish point of view as “giving without expecting to take”.
Compassion is our wish for all beings to be without suffering and all the opportunities and experiences that cause them to suffer, and the wish to relieve it. In the case of pity, we slip into thinking that we are superior in some way, and have pity for those who we consider to be inferior. Compassion is direct, and equal, wishing that suffering be removed no matter who is suffering, and if we can help in some small way, we will. When we remember we are all one, the help we offer to another comes naturally and without thinking.
I read an interesting analogy between the actions of hand and foot. If we stepped on a thorn, our hand would reach down to pull the thorn out, cleanse the foot, and bandage it. It would not say to the foot, “You are so stupid! Here I am having to bail you out once again! Why do I always have to be the one to fix things?” The hand does not pity the foot, or become angry with it, it just takes care of it because they are both part of the same organism. And, it does so without any expectation of the foot to not repeat the same action as before.
Attachment is often defined as being bound to something/someone with strong and lasting ties. With that, caring for someone often comes with strong projections of qualities that aren’t necessarily there, and continued attachment because the other person pleases us. Unfortunately, expectations are also attached to that person, thinking they should be a particular way, or behave a certain way. Then when they don’t do that, we get hurt, angry, cynical and disillusioned. And, depending upon our own personality, we feel the need to “fix” them or the situation, or we begin to detach from them.
The attitude most healthy for us to develop is one that hopes the other person will be reliable, helpful, strong – whatever adjective you would like to attach to what it is you are hoping for – but without the expectation to always be so. The key concept to remember is that they too, are human, and are sometimes as confused and overwhelmed as we are. So, rather than clinging to an unrealistic expectation, we develop a more balanced attitude. We stop clinging out of fear that our friends and family will leave us, and we will be miserable. Looking at it another way, we exchange our “miserableness” in the energy we expend in being hurt, angry and disillusioned to one of harmony, and allow our affection for them to increase – despite their humanness.
So, the lesson I have learned, and continue to practice so that I might perfect it, is this: Loving my friends and family, and any other person I might come in contact with, is an act of seeing the divinity within them, just as it is within me. I can do this with an attitude of non-attachment, and true affection. I need not fear the loss of my own attachments for praise, reputation, and relationships for these are protective mechanisms I have put in place for myself in an effort to make myself happy, resulting in making myself more unhappy. I can care for others through genuine affection, without seeking or expecting anything in return, wishing only for their happiness. This frees me from getting hooked into a pattern of unhealthy interactions, and creates the open space I need to be who I am.
Note: From a business perspective, this success factor is easily applied to running your own business, managing employees, working closely with a co-worker, or regarding your boss with love and compassion. This is a strong leadership trait, one to be practiced continuously in order to be successful in your chosen career.
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Georgia Feiste, owner of Collaborative Transitions, located in Lincoln, NE, is a business, career and personal life coach, writer, and workshop facilitator. Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life. She provides support and encouragement as her clients set intentional goals to attain their desires, holding open the space they need to stretch and grow. She can be reached at (402) 484-8098.