Unlike other blog posts, I don’t have a clear definition/citation for the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. Instead, what I’m going to share is what I’ve gathered from reading articles, having conversation with my husband, and living life. What follows is literally my interpretation:
Non-attachment seems to be one’s ability to simultaneously care and let go.
Here’s what I mean.
When I began my job as a community college professor, I took a twenty-thousand dollar decrease in salary. This pissed me off the entire first two years. I couldn’t believe I had a doctorate and decades of experience yet made far less than my peers and far less than I did my first year of teaching high school in 1996. How little my paychecks were clouded my vision.
Unlike at a university, I couldn’t negotiate my salary. My choice was to either find a new job or accept what I was bringing home, so I chose the latter. It wasn’t until I released worry about how much money I was making that I was able to develop a creative solution that didn’t involve quitting. Two years later, I began a small editing business. While my salary affords me basics, like food and shelter, my editing business helps me to afford the lifestyle I desire.
Do I care about making money? Of course, that’s how we live in this capitalistic society that commodifies people and their talents. However, letting go of the worry that comes with being low paid in my field is what led to the lifestyle I currently have, which I’m still not attached to because I know it could cease to exist tomorrow.
Dwight and I have been together for nearly three decades. I’ve written before about how attached I was to him when we first met. There was an inherent fear that if I lost him and our relationship, then somehow, I would be nothing. Our relationship was attached to my self-worth.
After healing unresolved trauma, I was able to see the flaw in my perception. If Dwight and I separate, I will not die. I will be fine. Don’t worry. He feels the same. I once asked him if he needed me. His response was no, and so was mine. I mean, think about it. It sounds a bit desperate to say that you need someone, like in a life-or-death way. In our relationship, we’re happy because we both want to be with each other; we’re not together out of obligation or desperation.
Do I care about Dwight? Of course, care is a part of love. However, I know at any moment, this relationship could end for any reason, and I’m at peace with that. This not only applies to my romantic relationship, but also familial and friendship ones.
Like many bloggers, when I first began, I was concerned about gaining readership. I participated in WordPress’s Blogging 101 and Blogging 201. I religiously followed Janice Wald’s advice. I begged family and friends to subscribe to my blog and felt bad when people didn’t. You know where all of that got me? Worried with a side of hurt feelings. I was so attached to what it meant to have five, ten, eighteen more followers that I was ignoring the creative part.
I had to stop worrying about who was following my blog and who wasn’t. I had to become unattached to the outcome of blogging. One day, I received one of those WP automated announcements about having 500 followers or something like that. I was surprised because I’d been focusing on just creating meaningful content, not gaining readers.
Do I care about blogging? I think most of you know the answer to that. However, I am not attached to how many likes or comments I receive. I rarely look at statistics, because I’m happy to engage with whoever happens to stop by.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that worry is a type of fear and it is linked to an attachment of some sort: I was attached to my pay because I feared being broke; I was attached to my husband because I was afraid to be alone; and I was attached to accumulating likes and comments because I was scared of not being a “good” blogger.
But in each example, when I released worry, and subsequently the fear associated with it, then that’s when the magic happened. I still cared, but I was also able to let go, and eventually, reach some level of non-attachment. Let me know what you think. Can you be non-attached to people, things, and circumstances?
Postscript: Non-attachment is not detachment. Detachment is not a healthy coping mechanism. Non-attachment is not a lack of care and concern. Not caring and being concerned with people is another form of detachment, which is not a healthy coping mechanism.