I have never really been a fan of New Year’s resolutions, not because I don’t like goal-setting, but simply because I don’t think you need a certain day to do it. Starting over, starting fresh, or however you want to phrase it, can be done at any moment of any day. The beginning of a calendar year just seems arbitrary to me in this regard. That being said, I get the whole concept of reflecting on a year that is ending and awaiting another that is beginning.
For me, 2015 has been about attachment. Perhaps better said, 2015 has been about learning the concept of non-attachment. The whole idea of non-attachment, I think, is a challenging one for us as human beings because we like to attach whether we realize it, mean to, want to, need to or not. We attach to the people who raise us, to those who surround us, to the ones we choose to be around, to animals, to places, to objects, to our work, to ideas, to concepts and to our own view of ourselves, for better or for worse. Some of our hardest lessons in life come in the form of having to unattach from the people or things we are not ready/willing/able to detach from. A loved one passes away, someone chooses to walk out of our lives, we move, we leave a job, some other life-altering event occurs that changes our entire path. It happens. And it happens many times over the course of our lives and it is “normal.” (quotes because, really, what is “normal?”) Somehow we learn to deal. Maybe we can learn to actually detach or maybe we’re just always painfully hanging on by a thread and we learn to deal with the pain. But, we deal. And the cycle repeats.
The concept of practicing non-attachment isn’t really about never attaching oneself to any of these people, things, ideas or ideals, because that wouldn’t really be living wholeheartedly, but rather, understanding that we don’t actually have control over them. Things happen. Things we might anticipate, things we could never imagine, and things we don’t even understand.
All of this may sound very obvious, perhaps cliché, perhaps completely irrelevant, or perhaps all too familiar. I say this not to insinuate any sort of superior enlightenment or “oh-so-holier-than-thou” sentiment, but rather quite the opposite. I thought I understood what it meant to be unattached to an outcome in life, but Life, gifted me with some very humbling slaps in the face this year that made me realize that I am way more attached to attachment than I thought. Let me be clear, they were slaps, I didn’t get knocked out, and I very grateful for that. There are far more traumatic things that could have happened (and have happened to some in my own circles) and 2015 also gave me some of the most amazingly huge hugs I’ve ever had to soothe the slaps.
Two days into this year, I lost a family member. They did not pass away. They were not stricken with a life-terminating illness. They chose to walk out of my life. And they chose to do it via email signed, “Have a nice life.” It was something that, despite our troubled relationship, I never expected. We didn’t really have a close relationship, but we didn’t fight. We never really “got” each other, but it was usually somewhat respectful. This person was often manipulative and didn’t always make me feel great about myself, but I had learned how to cope with it. We were dysfunctional but, we were family and I didn’t know you could do that. I didn’t know that you could actually just be like, “eh, I’m done” after 37 years. Why didn’t I know this? Because, as I’ve since realized, I was attached. I was attached to the idea that family will always be there – that it was a “til death do us part” type situation. I was attached to an idea and an ideal that this person would fulfill their role in my life. I was attached to the concept that the dysfunction would always be there. That no matter how odd of a relationship we had in comparison to others I had, that they would remain a part of my life.
At the time, though, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and I didn’t really know what that would mean moving forward. I do think I had already realized that the manipulation and dysfunction would walk out with this person, but, I hadn’t really even considered that I would actually need to detach and what that would really mean. This whole idea of non-attachment didn’t occur to me until the second slap.
The second slap was physically more painful and metaphorically much stronger. It packed a greater initial sting. The second slap was actually a detachment. Literally. Like, I physically came unattached. I was running and my hamstring tendons (which attach the hamstring muscle to the bone) popped off my ischium. So, literally, my hamstring muscle was not attached to my bone. Not ideal, especially when your career revolves around you being physically active. Somehow, though, even though the muscle was not attached, it didn’t roll up (which is generally what happens) and 2 out of 3 orthopedic surgeons actually suggested NOT having surgery to reattach the tendon to the bone. The thought was that, with proper physical therapy, strength training and appropriate care, the scar tissue would form in the space where the tendons came unattached to hold the muscle in place. Obviously, going under the knife wasn’t my first choice, but I was also scared to not have it surgically reattached for fear it would never work the same. Why? Because I had become attached to my way of life: my training, my job, and my ability to do things with my body. Sigh, more attachment that I would need to let go. I listened to the surgeons, though, and have spent the last 9 months putting in the work to heal.
Are we seeing the extremely obvious parallels here? It took me a minute (read: months) but it finally hit me. I would never reattach to the life that I thought I would have with said family member. I would never reattach in the same way to my bone, I might not ever perform the same way. I had to let my ideals go. But, I could put in the work, build up the scar tissue and form a new attachment to a new way of moving on. But wait, isn’t that just replacing attachment with attachment? Yes, sort of. The difference is, that I am learning (the hard way) that scar tissue isn’t as strong as the original tendon, so there is always a risk or reinjury. I cannot attach myself to the outcome or to expectations –with my hamstring or my loved ones. What I have been able to do, though, is appreciate. Appreciate all of the people who choose to walk in and stay in my life. To appreciate all of the things that I am able to do with my body, in spite of an injury. To appreciate all of the ways that all of the healing is occurring: physically, mentally and emotionally. The body is an amazing machine. The heart and the mind are unparalleled. The ability to get slapped by life and learn from it before you get knocked out is a gift (and, if you happen to get knocked out that could also be a gift). Attachment is inevitable. The practice of non-attachment is, in fact, a practice.