Why do we cling on to people and things in our life? Tibetan Buddhism talks about the futility of grasping at impermanence, yet that is exactly what so many of us do with our earthly attachments.
We cling on to material possessions like houses and cars in our need for security, comfort, or status. We cling on to personal gifts for sentimental reasons, as if love can be stored in an object. Most of all, we cling on to people thinking that they can make us happy.
I’m not suggesting that you get rid of everything you own and run away to some cave to live as a hermit. What I learnt today is that there are two ways of holding on to something. You can grasp it with clenched fists, or you can open your hand and let the object rest freely there.
What is the difference between the two postures? In physical terms, you grasp when your hand faces downward, and can let go when you turn your hand to face up. Translated into your philosophy of life, the difference lies in whether you choose a negative or positive orientation, whether you live in the fear of loss or the freedom of detachment.
How do you hold something freely?
1. Face skywards
While this is easy to do with your hand, it is less easy with your attitude. You can choose to live in trust rather than suspicion, in faith rather than doubt, and believe the best rather than the worst.
Facing skywards means that sometimes a little rain will fall on your face. Someone you trust may betray you, a respected mentor may let you down, a colleague may take advantage of you. This is the price you pay for choosing the high road.
But what is the alternative? The price of crawling through life with your nose in the mud is even higher. You may not get rain on your face, but you get splattered with mud instead. Plus the view is terrible. You’ll observe that those who choose this orientation for their life usually aren’t very happy people.
2. Open up
Sometimes we get so used to clinging on that we continue to do so even when the need to no longer exists. We’ve got the right attitude, but still fear losing what we hold dear, and so we continue to grasp it.
Opening up requires you to relax and let go. You have to be willing to risk losing whatever it is you’re holding on to. And you have to be willing to change. For your hand to physically move, something in your brain has to give the instruction – mental activity is required.
Similarly, you have to change your thinking in a way that results in your letting go of a thing or a person. It could take a lifetime to learn how to do this. Meditation helps a lot because you connect to a deeper truth and realise that the things of this world aren’t as important as you think they are.
3. Accept the outcome
Since most of us have not yet attained nirvana and complete detachment from all we hold dear, it may help in the meantime to assure yourself that when you let go enough to open your upturned hand, most of the time whatever is there will not fall off.
Your outward life in all probability will not be very different when you spiritually detach from it. You’ll still live in the same house, have the same job, stay with the same person, do the same things. Life will be the same, yet different. You feel more relaxed, more free, more joyful.
Of course, sometimes what you were holding on to will fall off. Take consolation in the fact that even if you had continued grasping, some things will slip from your grasp. And the harder you grasp, the faster you lose the very thing you want to keep. A child that is overly smothered may recoil from you, a spouse who is controlled too much may break free and leave.
In the end, you will keep some and lose some no matter what you do. But you’ll tire a lot faster if you hold on tightly all the time. It takes a lot less energy to relax. So you get more or less the same outcome for a lot less effort. Seems a good deal to me!