The more you care about a thing – it doesn’t really matter what the thing is, it might be a loved one, or a political issue, or, the latest fashion, or your garden – but regardless, the more you invest yourself in seeking the most positive outcome for that thing, throwing yourself madly into it, caring, caring and caring some more – the more unhappy you will be.
You won’t be able to stop worrying. Oh no, what if this or that goes wrong, I must forever tend to this interest of mine. I desire so very strongly to see it prosper, for the ‘right’ thing to come about. The moment something goes wrong, you’ll need to be front and centre doing your best to fix it, to make that thing better. And the thing is, life doesn’t work like that.
If you’re a parent who has brought up your child the best possible way, sent them to the best school, given them all of your love – there is still no guarantee they won’t end up addicted to something, or just an awful person. Certainly you’ll have given them a head start over others, but if you look closely at a lot of parents there’s a line that many cross, despite the fact they genuinely care, between positively assisting their children, and inadvertently setting them up to fail later on. Some, of course, genuinely do a wonderful job, but there is still that possibility that some aspect of their child’s future will be far out of their control. And then when that thing comes about, or when outside forces take over where they left off and a negative outcome occurs, they are beside themselves, “oh I didn’t raise you this way!” Worse still, they may simply blame themselves, as if they’ve done some terrible disservice to their child, despite having done nothing wrong at all. Ultimately an adult must make their own decisions at some point, and they are responsible for who they will become.
Similarly, a person who wants to bring positive change to the world, when they are so caught up in that change happening – well there’s a lot of people in the world and they are very hard to sway. Many such people simply crumble into despair, and where before they were such positive, hopeful people, ready to save a fish or stand up to the authority for whatever encroachment – and there are so very many they might decide to put upon their people; well such people transform. We’ve all seen it, the despair turns to anger, the anger turns to bitterness, and they’re an entirely different person. There are so very many people who fit this description.
Another example is if you wanted to build a house. Now let’s say you’re the kind of person who invests their time, energy, resources, their own labour even into this house. It’s the dream of a lifetime, and after some saving, some contracting, yet more labour of one’s own, the dream is finally realised! What a palace for one person, all finally complete. Then, just as you’re about to step into the house, a hurricane comes along and tears it down completely.
Now this is a very old parable, reframed into a slightly more modern context. It is covered by nearly all the religions in some way or another, and aspects of psychology touch on it too. For many the problem is known as attachment, but try not to think of it in the colloquial sense of the term. Think of attachment the way an eastern philosopher might think of it. It is less about wanting the best for that thing, or person, or even enjoying them, and more about your personal, emotional attachment to outcomes related to that person or thing. The trick is to learn detachment – which, it should be said, is entirely different from disassociation, and indeed separate from a lack of positive association. It is not as if we suddenly just drop everything we care about in the bin and decide to live selfishly. That’s a whole other problem, dealt with very skillfully by the twin concepts of karma and dharma, but those ideas are another discussion for another time – preferably with someone more knowledgeable about the topics than me. At any rate, detachment is a skill, where one by small degrees, emancipates oneself from the outcomes associated with a given thing, creature or person. In other words, to become more concerned with the journey, than the destination. Even if the ‘journey’ is your association with a person. You might teach yourself to enjoy observing them instead of fretting about how they are going to injure themselves. Chances are, they will do it no matter how you intervene. Of course, a bit of common sense must always be stirred into such recipes.
In the most recent context, we have all very much succumbed to attachment with relation to that big nasty virus that just won’t sit down and be quiet. That is fair enough, given we are human! Humans at the best of times struggle with amygdalic responses, that old reptilian part of ourselves that wants to respond only from fear, or survival-based, breeding-oriented processes. In eastern philosophies this is referred to in various ways, but could be distilled into the words desire, attachment, and of course, the illusion of material existence. Nobody wants to die, and they certainly don’t want to see their friends and family die or be severely incapacitated either.
So we have set out looking for a cure, and come up with some rather promising vaccines. Things were looking very good. Yet despite this, all manner of problems appeared. Politisisation of medicine, polarised politics regarding how to administer, or with relation to vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The media storms its way in and out of our lives on a daily basis, firing up our attachment drives and filling us with dread, anticipation, fuelling that need to have control of the outcome for ourselves and for others. Of course most of us have the best of intentions. Well, except perhaps for the people leading the giant company hell bent on profiting from medicine, but that is a different problem of attachment and desire once again.
Somehow, despite our long journey toward beating back the onslaught of nature’s newest killer, we have travelled a spectrum that screenwriters might struggle to get across the table a decade ago, simply because nobody would believe it to be true. We have travelled from two weeks to flatten the curve right down to everyone is going to get it at some point. From vaccination protects you completely to vaccination stops the spread to vaccination stops you dying or going to hospital- but everyone’s probably going to get it. From get your shot and you’ll be safe to get another booster and you might survive, but looking at the numbers…we don’t know. You might die. From certainty, to a hopeful gamble on what we think we know. Meanwhile, one of the leading contributors to the system underpinning the solution, has become one of its most vocal antagonists.
Humanity has responded in kind, and mostly from an attached, amygdalic perspective. The most logical solution, to vaccinate oneself against a disease, has become a source of extreme prejudice, not just in political terms, but from house to house, and even within families. Many wish to force vaccination on others, and openly despise those who refuse to receive the almighty needle. For these types, vaccination remains a holy grail-esque activity, despite the new and less optimistic landscape of Omicron. For others, the vaccine remains the single greatest threat to human survival, despite the massive rate of survival recorded worldwide. For many, the problem is with mandates and segregation, and this returns us to our central point – the problem of control, and of attachment.
In some beautiful, perfect version of the world where each person is self-actualised, self-realised, and eternally living simultaneously in the moment while musing on the best options for optimal futures, none of us are responding in these ways. We are all in agreement. Whatever that agreement may be. But for those of us in this material reality, this rather awkward, ungainly, but incredibly beautiful physical realm, things aren’t so simple. Most of us respond instinctively, and that includes those of us who do have a rudimentary understanding of attachment, and methods of slowly removing attachment.
And so the wheel turns.
Now here we are, despite all of our best efforts – some will live, and some will die. How awful. How apt. And yet in all likelihood, regardless of protests attracting hundreds of thousands around the world, the hated mandates will probably continue, and the segregation will continue, and the duality of commercial chaos and enforced order will march on, grinding all beneath the boots of change. The ignorance of climate will continue as new synthetic plastic toys are tossed into the ocean in vast quantity, as microplastics are discovered in embryos for the first time. Most of us will continue to ignore the words of the prophets, the mad ones, those who point the way past popularity, fear, ignorance and the mire of karmic reaction. Instead we’ll switch on our TV, or pick up a portable device, and skate headlong into escapism, or sensory pleasure, and most definitely into instinctive responses to events we cannot possibly begin to control. Yet in the end it is all for naught, as the cold skeletal hand plucks each soul deftly from its mortal skin at the alloted time, no sooner, no later. Oh, the hubris of man.
Some however, will ask, “well then, what on earth am I supposed to do about this? If I can’t care too much, and I shouldn’t worry about how things turn out, perhaps I should just stop caring all together and give it up! Why should I suffer when everyone else seems perfectly happy to indulge themselves constantly at one end, largely do as they’re told at the other, and in between, occasionally rise up as a single mass in absolute rage at something they collectively disapprove of? Why can’t I do that?” It’s a common response, and a fair one, but if you’ve ever watched The Matrix, you should be aware that nobody promised a cushion under your bum when they promised you the truth of things.
To understand the nature of things…well, to begin to understand…is quite difficult. It is uncomfortable. It’s often rather painful. The question asked above is about one-third right, but it should stop at “why should I suffer?”
The answer to that, of course, is very simple. You should not have to suffer! At least not in the sense that we all tend to think of it today. Now here’s the important part, if you’ve made it this far. Remember, you’re not here to exercise escapism, or to stop having hard times, nor even to stop having good times. Go and build that house. Care for that child. Do it all! But remember, the journey is important, not the destination. And for goodness’ sake, you cannot stop a tidal wave, so stop trying to stop it. This applies to all the big things. Sometimes you really do have to just let it come, and ride it to its end. These cliches exist for good reason.
If you are curious about attachment, desire, suffering and the material realm, there are myriad philosophers, religious scholars, gurus, prophets, authors, teachers and the like (yes, I said teacher twice didn’t I?) and even scientists, occasionally – though they tend to deal more in the how than the why of things – whose works can assist you far more than I. After all, I spend many of my days ‘caring’ (mostly worrying) far, far too much. It is very hypocritical, but I have always been far better at dispensing good advice than adhering to it. So now that you’ve become curious about how to reduce your stress, to not worry so much about the big stuff, to move away from your amygdala, your instinct, your desire – your attachment – get out there and start reading! Enjoy the ride, dear friends.