Learn to Detach in Order to Find Peace

letting go

illustrations by Lim Heng Swee

One who has finally learned that it is in the nature of objects to come and go without ceasing, rests in detachment and is no longer subject to suffering. —Ashtavakra Gita

I have a problem: I think I’ve grown attached.

Recently, I found myself lamenting to a friend about being alone. I cried about not having anyone. Yes, I have a few friends, but they have husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and kids and dogs. That’s the sucky part about growing older. Everyone starts pairing up and you’re just crouched in a corner ripping the crust off of stale bread. Or whatever. Maybe you want what they have, maybe you don’t. All that matters is that you’ve become painfully aware of your aloneness as you mature.

So naturally, you try to find someone or something to attach to. You become attached and you want to do everything with that person. That’s not always possible or logical. So what do you do? You smack yourself in the face and say, “Self, get a grip and grow up.” People are not possessions and situations are not permanent.

How timely would I randomly look at my Twitter timeline and see a post tweeted just for me. Zenhabits’ repost, “Letting Go of Attachment, from A to Zen” was a necessary read. Here’s some of my favorite quotables.

When you stop trying to grasp, own and control the world around you, you give it the freedom to fulfill you without the power to destroy you.

Attach to the idea of living well moment-to-moment. That’s an attachment that can do no harm.

Interact with lots of people. If you limit yourself to one or two relationships they will seem like your lifelines. Everyone needs people, and there are billions on the planet. Stay open to new connections. Accept the possibility your future involves a lot of love whether you cling to a select few people or not.

The only way to let go and feel less pain is to believe you’re strong enough to carry on if and when things change.

Narrate calmly. How we experience the world is largely a result of how we internalize it. Instead of telling yourself dramatic stories about the past—how hurt you were or how hard it was—challenge your emotions and focus on lessons learned.  That’s all you really need from yesterday.

Practice letting things be. That doesn’t mean you can’t actively work to create a different tomorrow. It just means you make peace with the moment as it is, without worrying that something’s wrong with you or your life, and then operate from a place of acceptance.

Question your attachment. If you’re attached to a specific outcome—a dream job, the perfect relationship—you may be indulging an illusion about some day when everything will be lined up for happiness. No moment will ever be worthier of your joy than now because that’s all there ever is.

Xie Xie. It means thank you in Chinese. Fully embrace your happy moments—love with abandon; be so passionate it’s contagious. If a darker moment follows, remember: it will teach you something, and soon enough you’ll be in another happy moment to appreciate. Everything is cyclical.

Yield to peace. The ultimate desire is to feel happy and peaceful. Even if you think you want to stay angry, what you really want is to be at peace with what happened or will happen. It takes a conscious choice. Make it.

Zen your now. Experience, appreciate, enjoy, and let go to welcome another experience.

So whether your attachment is to people, places or situations, we can all learn how to detach from it all without becoming aloof or bitter. We can learn to live a life that is fulfilling without clinging. Relax, let go and grow.

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  • Kim Jackson

    I totally understand what you’re going through. I experienced something similar in my late 20s as well. My group of friends and I had been attached at the hip since college, and then suddenly everyone had these other priorities. It was weird, and hard to understand but you’ve already got the right attitude to help you move through it. I especially love this: “soon enough you’ll be in another happy moment to appreciate. Everything is cyclical.” Remembering that the tough times are temporary have always been so helpful to my healing process.

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