The Binary Consequence of Attachment and the Arising Joy of Now

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In Buddhism, there are eight worldly conditions of life identified that are at the central route of much of our own suffering during our physical lives. They are broken into four pairs of opposites. They are;

Gain and Loss

Praise and Criticism

Fame and Disrepute

Pleasure and Pain

As human beings, no matter how hard we try, we will experience all of the above at some point in our lives, often several times over. The presence of any one in a pair will lead to the manifestation of the other.

I call this the binary consequence of attachment.

The easiest place to look is gain and loss as it is something most of us have experienced and have a memory of from an early age. I remember the first time my mother took away a toy of mine as “punishment” for being bad. I had initially gained the toy and infused it with the ownership of “mine” and the responsibility of happiness. Its removal from my life created a vacuum of happiness, as if my identity were ripped at the seams.

Flash forward to adult life and the mechanics are the same, just different objects. Last week I lost a brand new winter hat. I loved this hat, it made me look good and I spent hard earned money it. It made me feel, attractive, confident, warm and I experienced GAIN. Even though I know that hat is gone, I keep looking for it. No other hat will do because that was THE HAT. How could another hat possibly keep me warm? I am lazy, irresponsible and careless with money. I have LOSS.

Here’s the sneaky part. The moment I started to infuse the hat with meaning for good, I guaranteed an eventual loss. This is the binary consequence of attachment. In and of themselves, experiences in life can bring us endless amounts of joy. The key difference is that joy does not arise from attachment, it arises from present moment awareness, and fully dedicating yourself to the experience that is really happening in your life.

Instagram is a great example for describing the above, and a daily reminder for me on how fast ego and the eight worldly conditions can spring into action.

The entire platform is engineered to create content and then share that content with real time feedback on whether or not your content is liked, viewed and generates connection. So lets say I share something on Instagram and it receives 100 likes. I instantly feel the pleasure of being liked, the fame of being seen, the active praise those little hearts communicate and maybe even the gain of a few friends.

And then the bottom drops out. Two days later I post something and my pride and ego from the previous post have set sufficient expectation that this is going to top the last post. BOOM!!!!

….. and 34 likes. What is happening? Why do people hate me? I am a fraud. People are sick of reading my shit. Why did you even post that? Someone un-followed me? #Imdead No one cares. Blah, Blah, Blah.

And it happens like that, the moment expectation and attachment to outcome is not met. The high of posting something that achieved gain, pleasure and fame instantly creates the fertile soil for loss, pain and disrepute.

As part of my journey over the last several months, I am beginning to find a way out, a way that brings peace and most of all, joy. It is the practice of enjoying, with the most present moment awareness I can create, whatever I am doing or what is, in my life. I am free to interact with anyone I meet without agenda. If I experience loss, I don’t focus on what the loss has taken way, rather how I can enjoy what IS NOW PRESENT in my life. I will share much more about this later.

Today I am sharing the first longer form poem I have written in several years. I wrote it last night sitting at a bar that also serves late night coffee as I am on day 21 of who knows how long of removing alcohol from my life. More about that later as well.

This is not a poem that will or even should receive any critical acclaim. It is presented as another step on the path of discovering my dharma, and sharing it with the world.

I am not mad

Red is not the color I see

I simply choose to be

This is my free

From society

Wanting me

Angry.

I am not sad

Reject your perception of blue

Embrace what is true

Each day is new

In the morning dew

Sunlight’s hue

My coup.

I’m not jealous

Joy is not a prize to be won

We all stand in the sun

Envy Arson.

Accept what is done

Wanting none

Become.

I’m not happy

A soaring balloon that will fall

Inflated protocol

Crackpot cure-all

Dubious drywall

I install

Over all

I’m down with Joy

Spontaneous-no cost attached

Or wits that must be matched

The now is hatched.

Life’s purpose dispatched

Soul Impact

I attract

I accept death

Impermanence as we decay

Bodies wither away

This moment-Stay

Begin again day

After day

Today

About Me-Updated

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One of the most important things I have learned in the last 6 months, is how connected we all are and how what we have in common may act as the pathway to discovering the ultimate connection, that oneness within us all we all share.  Perhaps we are even more connected than you know. In the spirit of that discovery, I have updated the About me section of this blog.

I am 36 years old and enthusiastically identify as Gen X.

I have lost a parent

I am learning to rediscover another

I have two brothers that love me

I can spend more time loving them

 

I grew up in a small town

Went to college in a bigger town

Dropped out of college

Had my heart broken as a teenager

And as an adult

 

I have had almost every hairstyle

Shoulder length

Shaved

Bowl

Cornrows

No dreadlocks

And never shaved only down the middle

There is still time

 

I have been addicted to drugs

I have been addicted to alcohol

I am currently addicted to pizza

Seriously

I have been overweight

 

I loved wearing sweatpants in school as a kid

Then I wore a uniform from 4th grade through 12th grade

And dressed like a bum throughout college

And most of my early 20’s

Then I saw Ryan Gosling in a Hugo Boss suit in Fracture

And decided to compromise

 

I have lied in the past to look good

And avoid looking bad

for fear of punishment

and to manipulate praise

for all the bad reasons

because good ones don’t exist

 

I watch too much TV

I LOVE watching movies

But don’t really like movies made before 1964

Stand By Me is my favorite

 

I was a mathlete in middle school

Don’t ask

The first book I remember feeling moved by was A Celestine Prophecy

I once told my fellow 4th graders at recess that I was pacifist

I explained it meant I wouldn’t hit back……

Should not have explained that

 

I love playing basketball

But not the practice

I loved acting

But not the practice

I love writing

But only when it comes easily

I love anything that comes easily

You know

Anything I don’t have to practice at

Except Yoga

I love practicing yoga

 

I love just about every type of music

my first love was grunge

I used to tell people I liked everything

except country

that was the thing to say

and now I like country

and have fallen asleep to the sound of Metallica

 

I am a hard worker

When I know it will get me ahead

Whatever that means

If I could go back I would remind myself

Not all hours spent working are productive

To be proud of a job well done

Not of a job well perceived

 

I have never been a bully

But I have sat down when I should have stood up

I am sorry for those moments

And I endeavor to never sit

When the moment to stand arrives

 

I love making people laugh

I laugh out loud

Often about 2 seconds after everyone else

It just takes time for the joke to hit me

I love listening to people sing

And although I wish I could

I’m not the best singer

Except in the shower and elevator

There I am a star

 

I love works of art

And I draw stick figures

And label my drawings when not clear what is drawn

Really

My 7th grade art teacher threatened to take me off the honor roll unless I drew something else

She allowed stick figures after I submitted ‘something else’

 

I often think about running for office

Then I see the news

And I don’t

Then I think about what I could change

And I do

Until I tell myself the system is broken

And I don’t

 

I used to believe in God

Then I didn’t

Then I did

Then being agnostic was cool

Or calling it a higher power

Then I didn’t think about it at all

And now I do

And I believe we are all connected

And I believe

You know

 

My favorite color is blue

It’s the color of my eyes

my mom’s favorite color

the color of her eyes

 

I am very skilled at starting things

Less skilled at continuing things

A novice at finishing things

An amateur at engaging in feedback after something is finished

A virgin at being okay with completing something that failed

I give up before I can fail

It’s my paradoxical parachute

Opening it ensures I crash

 

I will hesitate to hit send on this post

Just like when I want to call to my friends

And I have AMAZING friends

It’s not about you

Always about me

 

I do believe that sharing who we are

And holding space for others that do

is the foundation for connection

I don’t share enough

I would like to share more

I commit to sharing more

Starting now

Dear 2018

2018 airplane

Dear 2018,

I know we’ve only just met, but it feels like I have known you forever. I really want this to work, and I have a habit of sabotaging relationships that show the promise of something magical. In fact, in just this century you will be my 18th, and the longest I have made it is one year. If I am being honest, I ran into you literally one second after leaving my last romance.

It was time for a change and you were there with your open arms and that big warm 8 looking like infinity that had finally found its feet. I want to find my feet too, and I think the promise of you was all the seduction I needed to leave 2017 behind.

Before we take things any further, I am going to tell on myself to you. It is important we don’t have any secrets and after spending some time reflecting this morning, I think it is the only chance we have to make this year, our year, something much different entirely.

Without further ado, it’s time to come clean on my crazy.

I put a lot of expectation on these types of relationships, hell in ALL my relationships. I know we just kissed, but I am already expecting you to help me lose 10 pounds, write a book, start a podcast and once that is all done, rediscover my purpose in life….and that gets us through July.

If any of these goals aren’t reached, I won’t blame you directly, but as the backdrop of my failure, you are guilty by association. My past relationships haven’t exactly measured up to the task. 2007 came close but by the end, all I could think about was 2008. I broke her heart. I expect each time to be THE answer. Period. I should be changed forever as I happily glide into the horizon of the rest of my life.

No pressure.

I change my mind-A LOT. The goals listed above will shift constantly. Within the span of one day I might be running for Governor, planning to run a marathon, or planning to run to the bar. My past relationships have made the mistake of putting old journals or goal sheets in an obvious place for me to find, which is a highly passive aggressive form of motivation. This is terrible because instead of helping me get back on track, they just remind me of how far I have fallen, mocking me. I already believe you will do this to me, and I will hate you for it.

I tend to listen for what I want to hear. Past years notice this and give me all the encouragement in the world as I crush the goals I list, usually created in the final week of my previous relationship as something akin to an escape plan. However, once I have escaped and buried myself into the activity of new beginnings, my past years have noticed the first signs of wavering, and start to tell me that ‘I deserve a break”. And I listen. They tell me ‘you don’t have to do it all’. And I listen. They console saying ‘choose yourself first’. And I listen. The problem is by the time I hear this, I have no idea who the hell I am, and the things I start to choose move me further away from any notion of how I can share myself in this world.

I am also a comparer. I normally don’t write words like ‘comparer’ and if we were talking face to face, this is the word. It is different than one who compares. That is an act. For me, comparison is a way of being. Its only January 1, and I have already compared you to every other year in my life up until now. So far so good, because I have never started off my relationship with a letter like this. And in the back of my mind, I think it might be all downhill from here. No matter how much past years have offered me in gifts, opportunities, and life experiences, I can’t help but looking at what they have given other people. No matter how magical my life is, I always seem to focus on the things I don’t have, rather than what is right in front of me.

And you are not doing yourself any favors by giving me 9 degrees Fahrenheit on our first day together as a couple.

This reaction is a perfect example of the last admission I want to make. When life is going well, I am the one who makes that happen. When life isn’t going how I planned, I empower the notion that life is HAPPENING TO ME. So if in two weeks I happen to see my best friend and have an amazing day, I did that. If I land an amazing opportunity in my career, ALL ME. If, however, I twist my ankle, you did that. If someone I hate gets elected to office, you did that. And I will blame you and hate you for it and in 364 days, I will say something like “goodbye 2018, it’s amazing I am still alive, but I survived you”.

Oh, and I am slightly dramatic.

The hard part about writing this, is I know our relationship will end, and I struggle with the passage of time, endings and death. For us, someone long ago predetermined our shelf life, and through the manmade construction of time boundaries, they defined our maximum amount of time together as 365 days or 31,560,000 seconds, to be exact. What I am realizing today, is that although that is the most amount of time we may have, I don’t know if I we will have it. Death is certain but the time of its arrival is not and no matter how much I do to control what I can, the things which I cannot control might determine our end before we achieve all that is possible together.

Which brings me to the point in this letter where I am going to try on something new. Instead of loading up our relationship with goals, timelines and expectations, I am going to simply state how I will show up each day and each moment of each day when I am with you. In this way, if we meet our premature end tomorrow, I can know that at that precise moment in time, I was in the experience of noticing the magic  and connection in life.

When I wake up each morning, I commit to finding a quiet place to sit. I will wake up at a time that gives me the space to sit in this place for at least ten minutes. As soon as I find my seat and draw my first breathes in and out, I will say the following in my mind.

“I am alive…..I am grateful for this life”.

From that point on, I will either sit in stillness or meditate, committing to sit with myself and bringing as much awareness to breathe as possible. In this way, every day we spend together will begin with its own promise, fulfillment and possibility, without any dependence on what has happened or what needs to happen.

Each week, I commit to removing one attachment from my life. If it is something that can be donated, then it will be. This could be an old shirt, a type of food, a relationship, drugs, alcohol. When I am not sure what to let go of, I will ask myself what is in my life that is cutting off my connection to myself or others or might be labeled by an objective observer as an addiction. When I know what to release, I commit to writing in my journal and answer the following questions about each released attachment.

  1. What attachment am I releasing?
  2. What specifically am I doing that makes this a release?
    1. For example, If I eat ice cream 7 times a week, am stopping it entirely, less frequently?
  3. What pleasure has it brought me in the past?
  4. What pain has it brought me in the past?
  5. Why am I scared of letting it go?
  6. What do I make this attachment mean about me or who I am?
  7. What is possible in my life without this attachment?

 

When I am finished writing and ready to let the attachment go, I will read my journal entry to someone in my life, and commit to my specific action in the presence of this person. I know you are there for me, 2018, but this needs to be someone who can just hold space for me, and won’t just tell me what I want to hear. What you can do for me, is hold space for me so that if I lose myself in the attachment after making a commitment, I will know it’s okay to journal about what happened, and re-commit to the new practice as many times as I need to.

My baggage holds me back from fully expressing myself in all the areas of my life, and if the day comes when I meet 2019, I know there would a new world of possibility without 52 current attachments in my life.

Last, and certainly not least, each week I commit to noticing one new thing in my life that brings me pure joy. It could be a movie that makes me laugh, the presence of trees, the sound of rain hitting the pavement, my dog dropping a toy at my feet…. anything that causes the feeling of peacefulness, lightness and that sense of time stopping around me in a way that I can enjoy the exact moment I am in. It can also be parts and pieces of people or situations I may not like on first glance. For example, I might have a difficult relationship with my someone, but there is one thing about them that bring me joy. The fun part will be finding the hidden treasures buried right before my eyes.

Quick note to self, because I am looking for joy in the moment, it cannot arise from anything that takes me out of the moment. For instance, drinking scotch may be enjoyable, but it dulls my senses and dampens my awareness. It can be enjoyable, but is not the type of joy I am focusing on here.

When I find that thing in my life, I will write about it and answer the following questions.

  1. What did I notice that brought Joy in my life?
  2. Is this the first time it happened, or the first time I noticed it?
  3. When I experience that moment, what am I aware of?
  4. What caused the moment to end?
  5. Can I find it again?
  6. If I can, what can I do to make it a more regular part of my day?

 

Once I am done with my journal I will take one final step. I will directly thank and acknowledge the source of my joy. If it is a tree, I will thank the tree out loud and if I know who planted that tree, I will thank them too. I will thank my dog. When I find it, I will tell the people and situations that aren’t so easy in my life where they bring joy, I will make sure they know.

2018, I do not hold you responsible for my happiness. Your convenient appearance in my life doesn’t change who I am in this very moment. What is impactful, is that space you give each moment to fully experience my life.

The space to notice those attachments that perpetuate an endless cycle of passion and pain, pleasure and withdrawal, love and hate, and to release them.

The space to find the simple joy in the practice of living each day, and making sure the sources of joy know we are one through my acknowledgement of their connection to my own life.

I do not know what will happen tomorrow, or in the next moment.

Right now, I know I am alive.

I am grateful for this life.