Love, Sorrow, and Attachment
Gautama Buddha once said: I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.
And what causes this suffering? He answers this question in his four Noble Truths: The origin of suffering is attachment.
Attachment. Does it not ring true? I think back to the news, to the stories Ive heard, to my past. A young woman kills herself when she is disfigured in an accident attachment to her looks. A colleague started screaming and yelling when her position at work was disrespected attachment to her status. A friend flies into a violent rage when he finds his parked car dented by a stranger who had long fled the scene.
A young man jumps off a building when his wife left him for another. Another goes on a drinking binge that lasts for weeks. A third gets fired from his job Attachment to their lovers.
The impermanency of all things is something that we know, deep down inside, and yet we refuse to acknowledge. We know it we have to, but we spend all our might trying to forget it. Nothing is permanent. Our life, our health, our wealth, our lovers and enemies, our happiness and sorrows they all disappear one day. Everything ends. And when they do, our attachments our feeble clinging and grasping, our rage and mightiest efforts to hold on Isn’t that the cause of so much of our misery?
And if you think back to your past, you might be forgiven for thinking that Love is the cause of your sorrows. But its not love is attachment, Love Love, with a capital L that is freedom from attachment!
The end of attachment
I love you! you exclaim. You swear it under the stars. You shout to the ocean that all you want is for her to be happy. And the next day, when your back is turned, your beloved sleeps with a handsome stranger, for it makes her happy. Then what has happened to your sweet nothings? Nothing for that was exactly what they were. If you meant what you said why the anger, why the broken heart? If you meant it, you would have been overjoyed she was happy, just like you wanted. Your love was flawed, it was selfish the opposite of Love, the perfect selfless Love.
And the biggest myth is that Love is impossible; that it is the domain of mystics, saints and masters. I remember discussing this with a friend, many years ago. He argued forcefully that this was a mere story tale, that we cant achieve it, nor should we even try.
But is that true? Everyone has glimpses of Love, even in the clinginess of a normal relationship. Sometimes, it happens just by accident maybe the ego just forgets to step in for a few minutes. Or maybe things are going so well, and you are just overflowing with so much joy.
In those moments, no matter what happens, there will be no pain. When the selfish little me is not there, when all your thoughts are on the other, where is the attachment, where is the pain?
The world of form, of things and objects I have so often heard that they are like clouds. Let them float by, without grasping at them. How can you grasp at clouds? They come, they go we have no control.
But how? How do we stop grasping? For some, this realisation is enough. They simply allow themselves to stop. For others, this realisation makes everything worse. They have been clinging and grasping their whole lives, and now you tell them they shouldnt have, and thats an another layer of sorrow.
How, then? How? Just Love. Start with yourself, and let it overflow until you love completely. For when you love everything you are attached to nothing. When you look at the clouds the same way you look at your lover, when you love each moment as deeply as the last that is true freedom!
The hurtful and the hateful
And when you think about self-love, you might think about those who take pleasure in hurting others. Arent they loving themselves, you might think? Arent they filling themselves with love and joy at the expense of others?
Theres no way of ever knowing for sure what they are feeling, but we can guess, we can put ourselves in their shoes. Haven’t we all felt the same way before? Havent we done those things, perhaps on a lesser scale?
All our words filled with pride and anger, all the revenge we plot and plan, all the pettiness and spitefulness was that really happiness?
I remember a high school classmate. He took great pleasure in tying kittens up in plastic bags and using them as footballs. I have never seen him do it, but I remember the look of glee on his face as he described it to us the next day. I knew of his story and his childhood he was a sad and angry person underneath his sadistic surface.
I remember a proud and stand-offish young woman. She took equally great pleasure in torturing the men who tried approaching her in bars and clubs, and would afterwards laugh and sneer at them as they skulked off in failure. When I got to know her better, I found that she hid much sadness and regret beneath her cold surface.
I remember, years ago, being so angry at someone that I fired off a series of long and abusive emails. I had been stewing over the event for weeks, trying to hold it in and be mature, but I just had to erupt. It satisfied me tremendously for about ten minutes. It didnt reduce my anger or my urge to hurt and destroy. All I remember of myself from that period was I was a very angry and sad person.
Why did we do all these things? Did we really find pleasure and happiness in doing what we did? Or was it a temporary escape, similar to the man who drowns his sorrows in alcohol?
One last memory, then. A girl from my teenage years, who had been the victim of child abuse. Her mental torture was endless and constant. Every time something happened to remind her of her past, she would retreat into her room and cut her own wrists. Not enough to penetrate the arteries, but just enough to release some blood. When she showed me the scars, I was stunned.
Why would you do something so stupid? I exclaimed. Her answer made so much sense the sharp new pain; it takes her mind off her constant background misery! The blood dripping out of her wrists, it was a release for her She saw her misery escaping through the gash in her skin.
Is that why we behaved the way we did? Hurting ourselves, hurting others simply to provide a fresh, sharp cut that lets us forget temporarily the constant, endless misery of disliking ourselves.
In hurting others, you only hurt yourself
I have heard: In hurting others, you only hurt yourself. And for a long time, I didnt understand what it meant. It seemed like a nice cautionary tale, a bedside story for your children, but nothing more.
Recently, in the emotional mastery series, I stopped running away from my sorrows and turned around to face them. As I healed those wounds, smaller, older injuries rose to the surface.
Some of these memories were not surprising how others had hurt me, embarrassed me, and humiliated me. But some of them were – how I had hurt them, embarrassed them, and humiliated them. They were all the same. Underneath the stubborn pride and the “to hell with them” attitude, my heart silently knew the truth there was no difference.
Why would a happy man go out and hurt others? A happy man simply wants to be left alone with his music and his poetry. And when his joy gets too much for one person, then hell go out and share it there is no other way.
When I was alone and upset, long ago, I would hide up in my room at night and wallow in my own dejection. If my sorrow could speak, it would say How I wish those who hurt me could feel this same pain, and know what they did to me!
One night, I was overcome by a strong urge to sit outside on the front porch and look at the moon. I spent hours there, basking in the cold winter breeze. Slowly I began to smile at the moon, and it felt like the moon was smiling back at me, washing away my pains. If my smile could speak, it would say How I wish those who hurt me could be here and see the same moon.
And isnt that what people do when they are happy? Watch when someone begins dancing, dancing out of pure joy not out of a need to be admired theyll grab someone else and pull them into the dance. How do you hurt someone when you are happy? How can you not share your joy? It is impossible.
Love and Improvement
Recently I was reading another blog on personal development. It was a long, complicated post on reconciling the conflict between self-acceptance and self-improvement. And that issue has been raised in many other places before How can you love and accept yourself exactly as you are and still want to improve yourself?
My question is: How can you not?
Have you ever seen a man who is in love with his car? He spends hours polishing it, waxing it, tinkering with the engine. Have you ever seen a woman and her infant? Does she leave it alone, simply because it is perfect as it is? No. The baby is perfect to her and yet she wants the best for it. She cuddles it, kisses it, feeds it, and plans for its future. Where is the conflict?
And, I beg you, think of the opposite. How many self-improvement projects stem from a lack of self-acceptance and self-love? How many of us meditate, work out, volunteer at a charity, go looking for a lover, drive ourselves to earn more to fill a deep sense of not enough?
First, know Love. And from there, let everything else flow.
The Monk turns one year older tomorrow! If anyone wants to send a birthday present, I accept Bentleys and Ferraris. Ha!