In my last article ‘Use anger to create huge mental shifts,’ I wrote about the benefits of repeated exposure to the things that weaken us. It’s a great way to build mental toughness. But today I want to discuss something more powerful. Non-attachment, and how to achieve it.
You’ve probably heard of non-attachment as some buddhist thing. Maybe you’re envisioning some dodgy looking monks sat on a hill or sweeping a monastery. For sure those guys have no attachments. They probably live in a constant state of bliss so I have no idea why they usually look kinda sad and bored.
How do I know they live in a constant state of bliss? Because their whole life revolves around being present and mindful. Anytime they feel an attachment to a desire they simply sweep it away out of their thoughts like the dust in the monastery, they’ve trained themselves for hours and hours everyday to be able to do that kinda thing.
If you’re wondering how you derive happiness from no attachments then just sit and think about it for a second. What if it didn’t matter what happened in life. If there was no such thing as failure. If no matter what happens it’s perfectly fine. Some people think of this as fate, or the universe, or God being in control. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe something else is in control. All that matters is your own reactions to things. Everything external is outside of your grasp and nothing stays the same anyway, trying to force things to be how you want them inevitably just pushes the things you want further away.
Maybe it’s better to use some examples. So let’s say you go for a job, you really really want that job, ‘My life is gonna be so great if I can just get that job,’ you think to yourself.
You’re immediately setting yourself up to be unhappy. Because if you don’t get the job you’ll be all depressed and sad because your expectations didn’t get met, and if you do get the damn job you’ll be so dependent and cling to it so much that it’ll be a constant source of fear and stress that you might lose it.
Now replace the word job with person, car, house, body. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you depend on the thing you want to be a source of happiness for you then you’re no longer in control of your own emotional state.
Allowing things to flow and not being dependent on any specific thing to be how you want or expect it to be means you live in a state of peace. You become curious and intrigued about life as it unfolds around you.
I have a day job, I don’t do it much, only fours hours a week since that’s all I want to work at the moment, but this day job relies on good weather and I have to plan well in advance which days I’m gonna work. Therefore I have no idea what the weather will be like on those days once they roll around. Sometimes I get lucky and it’s blue skies and a nice breeze to keep me cool, but other times it’s raining and really windy so I have to try my best to work around it. I can’t control the weather but I don’t see the point letting it piss me off either.
There’s tons of things in life like this that are outside of your control. Learning to shrug it off when things don’t go how you’d hoped is one of best habits to cultivate for long term happiness. If you want a great anchor for this then look out for when you use the word, ‘should.’
The weather ‘should’ have been dry today. Yeah? Well it’s not, so how about letting go of what ‘should’ have happened and allow things to be as they are.
He ‘should’ be nicer to me, or she ‘should’ have text me back by now. Who cares! If you don’t like somebody else’s behaviour then either stop expecting things to be different or walk away. Why allow someone’s actions to dictate your level of happiness. I know we can’t all be like Eckhart Tolle floating around on a lotus leaf but if you’ve set boundaries and someone else ignores them this is an external force that you cannot control, and nor should you want to. Having these kinds of expectations will inevitably always lead to heartache.
You might think, ‘but he/she never used to be like this, things were so much better back then,’ yup, perhaps, but people, just like everything else in the world, can change over time. You can either be cool about it and let them flow in or out of your life without resentment or you can hold on tightly and most likely alienate them even more. Your happiness is not dependent on each other. Love doesn’t try to control and dominate, just as good leaders or good friend’s don’t try to control or dominate. Only insecurity does that.
Everything is constantly changing. You may not notice it on a day to day basis but look back on your life and you’ll see how much things change over time. Learn to embrace uncertain changes and you’ll harness the power of stoicism. Be cool with any outcome and if your intuition tells you to move away from something then follow it, see what happens, view your life as an amazing story that’s unfolding before your eyes with wonder, amazement, and less control, then watch as you sit in a state of peace each day wondering with joyful curiosity what will be happening next.
The goal here is to live in agreement with whatever comes and goes in our life, or as the saying goes, ‘Go with the flow.’ This is the perfect catchphrase because if you imagine a river it has a course or several courses and if we were to find ourselves in that river we’d have a choice whether to swim against the current, hold on to a branch, or simply let go and flow along with the stream. Most people in life swim against the current and try hard to control things. Our minds believe that it can and should control the environment, we’re especially taught this in the west where if we don’t have what we want we should ‘try harder,’ but most forces are outside ourselves and outside of our control. Nature seems more in control than we are, so just like the river if we flow along with the current we align ourselves with the natural course of things. This is the path of least resistance.
When you flow with life the same way a river flows with water the incessant results orientated mind disappears and you focus more on the task at hand, allowing you to care less about the outcome whatever it may be. Instead of worrying about the future you focus completely on the present meaning less pressure, less anxiety, and most importantly more peace. Which is what we’d all like to have in our lives.