Sally is married to a man who has put on 60 lbs since they got married but doesn’t listen to her advice on healthy eating. She has a 17-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. The daughter has a boyfriend Sally hates, and her son does not apply himself in school. Sally’s in-laws are judgmental and Sally tried extra hard to please her mother-in-law by competing with the other daughter-in-law. Sally sometimes feels anger and sadness rise in her and it takes all her energy to keep those emotions bottled up. She has almost daily headaches and has become dependent on pain killers and anxiety medication.
What advice would you give Sally? She could work on one situation at a time but they all have one thing in common: attachment. Sally’s energy is going towards wanting others to change while she is suppressing her own emotions and needs. She is attached to her husband taking her advice, to her daughter realizing that her boyfriend is not good for her, to her son working harder in school and to her mother-in-law liking her. She is also attached to those powerful emotions which she keeps pushing down by using painkillers to numb them out.
What would make the greatest difference for Sally and her family is for her to start directing her energy towards herself and her needs, and to develop a healthy detachment or non-attachment to the other situations.
Non-attachment or detachment does not mean “not to care” anymore. That is a common misunderstanding. Sometimes we get so frustrated with somebody not changing that we decide that we will “just not care anymore”. When we are shifting from being attached to a certain outcome to non-attachment this is not happening to punish the other people. If frustration is my trigger and punishment is my motivation, I have not developed true detachment. Non-attachment is to keep our own sanity and to allow a situation to unfold in whichever way it needs to unfold. We are still staying compassionate, but we surrender the need to control things.
Non-attachment comes from a true heart-space, a compassionate loving stance, but it means taking our energy back that we have bound up with expectations. Having a healthy detachment is to care but to not be attached to if, when or how the other person is going to take our advice, or if, when or how they do what we would like. If we are attached to them doing something or not doing something, we have allowed our expectations to rule us and to create disappointment and frustration. Our energy is bound up in a certain outcome.
Having healthy detachment from a situation means having a standpoint of non-judgment. We are not attached to how a situation should unfold. We can let it be what it is and have discernment. Discernment means to not tolerate a situation which is harmful to us. Sally’s mother-in-law is manipulative and disrespectful. Directing her energy back towards herself might also mean for Sally not to tolerate that anymore. With some separation from the pleaser voice inside her, Sally can decide to please herself and just let go of the competition between the daughters-in-law which neither one can win anyways.
Non-attachment to uncomfortable emotions means that we can allow our emotions to rise up, to feel them and to let them move through us. Sally has an opportunity to feel the anger and sadness and to realize that underneath it all she is carrying a lot of grief. She deserves to take time to experience and release these emotions.
Non-attachment to pleasurable emotions like happiness means not chasing after them in the outside world. Happiness can be found inside and enjoyed in each moment as it presents itself. Instead of putting her energy towards what she does not like, Sally can give herself permission to focus on the daily little moments of joy.
Non-attachment to food, substances, habits or activities means that we don’t depend on them for our emotional or physical well-being. Instead of eating, smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in addictive behaviours to feel better, we experience a healthy detachment. We are able to feel our emotions and pain and explore what message there is and which of our needs have to be addressed.
Non-attachment means surrendering and thus letting go of a tug-of-war we have gotten ourselves into. When Sally stops nagging her husband, or pushing her daughter to see certain bad qualities in her boyfriend, or lecturing her son about school, or letting go of the competition with the other daughter-in-law, these situations can pass. The husband can now feel it is his choice to eat healthier. The daughter does not need to rebel anymore and has a chance to see the boyfriend for who he is. Sally’s son gets to experience the natural consequences of not getting good grades; he has to stay at home to study instead of playing video games at his friend’s house. And the mother-in-law is unable to manipulate Sally anymore into doing something she does not want to do. Sally is free.
Last but not least, non-attachment helps us to go though difficult moments with a certain sense of humor, knowing that “This too shall pass”. When she takes a moment to see everything with humour, Sally remembers that her sister also had an “undesirable” boyfriend and eventually broke up with him, and that her husband used to be “lazy” himself when he was 14 and today is a successful engineer.
Where in your life are you attached to people and their choices, to situations unfolding a certain way, to emotions or to food/substances? I invite you to join me on a meditation to release these attachments, reclaim your energy and to surrender to everything unfolding perfectly.
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