“Whenever you experience the pangs of losing something, don’t treat it like a part of yourself but as a breakable glass, so when it falls you will remember that and won’t be troubled. So too, whenever you kiss your child, sibling, or friend, don’t layer on top of the experience all the things you might wish, but hold them back and stop them, just as those who ride behind triumphant generals remind them they are mortal. in the same way, remind yourself that your precious one isn’t one of your possessions, but something given for now, not forever…” ~Epictetus, Discourses
“Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. … What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.” ~Epictetus, The Enchiridion
“Our attachments are what make it so hard to accept change. Once we have them, we don’t want to let go.” ~The Daily Stoic
Consider for a moment every heartache that you have ever had; every loss, every incident that has devastated you in some way. Hell, even learning about things you once held as dear truths, which now prove to be false can be quite painful in the battle of letting go and accepting what is. At the center of that pain is a void where something has been violently uprooted and pulled out.
That something that has been uprooted wasn’t your wife or girlfriend who left you or cheated on you.
That something wasn’t the death of your parent, best friend, child or favorite dog.
That something wasn’t the loss of your job, the destruction of your house and possessions, etc.
That something, I propose, is the attachment to the person, thing, ideal, etc., not the incident itself. The mental and emotional investment one puts in, creates the attachment to the “thing”, the attachment is what has brought the pain. From my (limited) understanding, the Stoics among others sought to find the harmony between loving something and ridding themselves of any attachment to it – thereby freeing themselves to fully enjoy life and those things they were blessed to have in it (spouses, possessions, wealth, children, etc.)
I know it is.
So many things hinge on a “mortality” of sorts.
Possessions break, burn and are stolen or destroyed. They can be replaced, true, but those can suffer the same fate. Family, friends, spouses close loved ones: they will all die one day, perhaps before you do. They can also disown you, turn their backs on you, betray you, cheat on you and visit all sorts of evils upon you. Unlike possessions, humans aren’t replaceable. Sure, you can get new friends and lovers, you can adopt new “family”, but they can’t replace the others. You can also rekindle relationships, but like a teacup that has been shattered and painstakingly repaired, it is never the same, the shatter marks remain.
The hardest part to swallow is that you are not in control of when, where or how these thing can or will happen.
This is such a crucial thing to come to grips with, yet people seem to want to quickly acknowledge it and then shy away from doing the mental exercises, the actual contemplation necessary to understand and prepare for these possibilities or eventualities.
At my current level of understanding, becoming aware that attachments exist and that you aren’t a special exception to this particular human experience is the “first step” in dealing with it. The second step would be the contemplation and acceptance which I wrote about above. Being aware of one’s particular attachments and how they effect you is closer to a third step and I think working to removing attachments is something like the fourth step.
I’m not clear on what that looks like though as I am working through those “steps” myself. Too many people want to jump to step four, to just getting rid of things, without fully appreciating and understanding what they actually need to do or how to approach it.
Classic cart before the horse.
I do not think it is a question of being emotionless or impenetrable to the human condition or the wide range of emotions that you experience as part of being a human being. This is something many people misunderstand about Stoicism or applying Stoic philosophy into your life. It’s way more about recognizing those things that are within your control, accepting those things that are not and acting accordingly – not being robotic and cold. The point I’m trying to make is that we should seek to come to a place where we are not so attached; having ourselves so tied up into that that thing that when bad shit does happen (and bad shit will happen), we aren’t frozen in a paralysis or thrown into a rage or a pit of despair. We can keep a level head about us, despite the betrayal or hurt or shock and address the situation as needed.
That’s the challenge, that’s part of the path…
So, as this is my last post of the year, I challenge you to attack your goals for 2018 (you have clearly defined goals, not resolutions, right?) and begin the mindful process of seeking out your attachments, breaking the chains of them and living a more present, freer and fuller life in 2018.
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