We come into this world as the result of an act of connection, often because of an act of love; a merging of intention, of ideals, of bodies. This unity of the two brings about the one. Love, it seems, is a unifying experience, elevating, uplifting, and bringing us together. However, more often than not, we all experience the divisive nature of this so-called love, and we experience heartbreak, disappointment, pain, and frustration.
One thing we know about life with absolute certainty: it will eventually end. We know we are here for a short visit and that yesterday will never come back. This sense of certainty and awareness that our journey will someday come to a close causes us to grasp onto its fleeting moments. What if I won’t get to see this person tomorrow? What if I won’t have this job; this house; this experience? The fear of loss can be overwhelming and the innate sense of losing control over the things and ones we love can be immensely challenging.
And so, because of this kind of pain, many spiritual traditions warn us of attachment in one form or another. God forbid we fall in its trap and find ourselves living with the illusion that this—whatever it is—will last forever! Hence, the “logical” conclusion is that we should avoid attaching ourselves to that which has an eventual end. It seems logical because we all experience the pain of loss, but it is as flawed as saying that if you have a headache, the logical conclusion is to cut off your head.
Even if detaching from love was the solution, it is not easy to accomplish. The path of the renounced ascetic doesn’t really entice most of us to follow along. For instance, celibacy, solitude, and renunciation definitely don’t appeal to our human desires, and I can regretfully share from experience that once you do step on this path, detachment becomes your new form of attachment. You become attached, often fanatically, to this new ideal of living a detached life. Anything or anyone that might put your detachment at risk is now another object from which to push away and escape.
And so, it seems that both detachment from and attachment to love cause an eventual state of pain. Are we damned if we do and damned if we don’t? How can we find the healthy balance? How can we love without attachment and live detached while staying connected to life itself? How do we live without the need to escape reality for all that it is?
There is an ancient Yogic tale that directs us to the answers:
King Janaka was a saintly king who was very wealthy and as devout as truth itself. One day, a group of renounced Yogis questioned the purity of their king.
“How can he be so devout while being so rich? How can he claim to live a detached life while living in such a palace?” they wondered.
These doubts turned into gossip, and as gossip often does, it grew into flames of blame and shame. King Janaka heard of these accusations and invited the esteemed Yogis to visit his palace for a feast. The Yogis accepted, wanting to find proof of the king’s hypocrisy. They were shown into an exquisite hall with a long and polished table standing in its center. The table was filled with dishes of all colors and shapes, showcasing many flavors and aromatic spices. It was truly a feast of immeasurable wealth and unending splendor. As they sat at the table, they couldn’t help but notice a sword, dangling on a slender silken thread, hung directly above each of their heads.
“Welcome!” King Janaka exclaimed, “Eat, my brothers! Enjoy this meal—we shall converse more after your desire is fulfilled.”
Within seconds, the monks finished eating and stood up, fearing the wrath of their appointed sword.
“Wait, there is so much more! There is dessert and cake and tea,” added the king. “Why are you leaving in such a rush? Have you not enjoyed your meal?”
One of the monks whispered in shame, “Honestly, I didn’t even get to taste it. The fear of the sword choked my throat.”
“This is how I live my life,” the king explained, gesturing to the table and swords. “I live each moment to its fullest, yet I always remember the sword, which is just there, hanging by a thread above my head.”
The king knew that he had to be grateful for all that life had given him, and he needed the freedom to enjoy every moment of it because of the finite nature of that which he loved.
…is not a state of detachment, nor is it a state of escapism. Attachment to life’s greatest pleasures will only bring about fear and control, never freedom and love. Love does not hurt; attachment does. Love does not fail; expectations do. Aloneness and escapism will not bring wholeness, nor will they get you closer to your center as you cannot arrive there out of fear or avoidance. Freedom comes from an empowered choice to live life with gratitude, appreciating where you are now, and learning to express your deepest truths and desires. Learn to let go and allow life to be let in. Through the process of living, you are required to eventually let go. When the time is right, you need to surrender. We grow in our sense of living as we allow this understanding to shake and awaken us. Live each moment to its fullest, be present for each relationship and each experience, surrender to the flow of life, and trust in the Divine Plan and its gentle reminders.
…is a force of transformation that allows us to detach from an outcome and attach to uncertainty while living with the faith that life is happening for us and that it always conspires on our behalf. Life is a constant flow of evolution and it wakes us up to live empowered, grateful, and free. Gratitude is also the ability to appreciate all that we are given; it is the capacity to acknowledge the presence of uncertainty. Detach from taking things, people, and even life itself for granted. This is the path to pure love.
To attach or not to attach? To detach or not to detach? These aren’t the questions.
Instead, what is the innate meaning you choose to give to your relationship with life itself? Discover it, respect it, hold it dear, and honor your days with a loving and thankful heart.