Friday Musings: Release and Engage

Friday Musings: Release and Engage

If you read my post this past Tuesday about The Wise Woman’s Stone, you know that I talked about a certain pair of Frye boots that I bought just recently. I am wearing them as I sit here writing this Friday Musing. I have been trying to practice the idea of non-attachment, especially towards them, and I think I am making some progress. I love them still, and I do feel happy when I’m wearing them, but I know that they are a material object and therefore they cannot be permanent. I’m not allowing them to define me, and even though they do make a statement about my personal style, I’m not obsessed with them. Well, maybe just a little, but I’m trying, I really am! I’m new to this. I feel as though I may just be starting to grasp this concept, and that makes me wonder what it can possibly mean to practice non-attachment towards another person, especially one with whom we are deeply in love. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, right? If we love someone, how can we not feel attached to them? Isn’t that part of love?

The Buddhists are ready to help us understand since this idea is one of the foundational elements of their faith. I did lots of reading on the subject, and I finally found an answer that resonated with me on a website that allows you to literally “Ask a Buddhist” anything you might want to know. In answering a question about applying the idea of non-attachment to relationships, Sarah Conover, a practicing Buddhist for over 30 years, responded in the following way. “A Buddhist practitioner must discover and maintain a weird double vision by holding close the fact that we will lose everything we cherish while at the same time recognizing that life’s fragility makes each relationship ever more precious. This isn’t just a Hallmark sentiment… Like it or not, our own lives and our relationships are high stakes, life and death.” So even the people that we love are not permanent in our lives. We will lose them one day, through either change or death, no matter how much we may want to keep them forever. I think this is a grim statement, and not one that I want to think about, but I can certainly comprehend it in theory. It’s the application of this concept in terms of everyday life that I struggle with so much.

I decided to formulate my own theory based on what I’ve read, on what I have personally experienced, and on what I think about love and relationships. Our first encounter with another person, even one who will become the love of our lives, begins in a place of newness, openness, and genuine curiosity. We are willing, at that point, to allow this person standing in front of us to be exactly who they are and, in fact, we are drawn to the ways in which we see them as unique. The first stirrings of attraction come from this mindset of individuality and separateness, and we are gentle and accepting in our approach. As time goes on and we enter into a relationship, the idea that our significant person is separate from us begins to become less and less desirable. What we crave is a kind of merging, or a new identity based on who we are as a couple. The process of creating this new identity requires us to construct a fiction in our heads, in which our person behaves, and also thinks, in a way that perfectly matches the story we are writing. This marks the beginning of developing expectations. It is, of course, impossible to control another person’s behavior or thoughts, but when that realization sets in we often clamp down and hold on even more tightly. We have become attached to the fiction we have created and to the outcome of our story, and these entanglements make our love conditional. We lose our openness and our curiosity about this person standing in front of us who continues to grow and change in the way that all human beings do. We become rigid and closed in our approach, making honest communication nearly impossible. We are working so hard to hold onto the idea of the “us” that we’ve created, that we lose sight of reality. I think that the theory of non-attachment offers us a way to looking deeper and deeper into that reality.

In practice, this means being present and mindful in our relationships. It means constantly paying attention, and never losing that feeling of curiosity, and continuing to see the ways in which our person is separate from us, rather than seeking a merger with them. It means attempting to create a space in which we can both continue to grow as individuals who happen to love one another. It means tossing the fiction, despite our constant tendency to want to control everything, in favor of just allowing the present and the future to unfold. It means letting go, rather than clamping down. It means communicating honestly and openly about what moves us and what scares us. It’s okay to tell someone why you love them and to feel the vulnerability that comes with that admission. It’s okay to miss a person when they are gone and to want to be with them. It’s okay if the idea of seeing them still gives us butterflies. None of these things represent unhealthy attachment. This may sound strange, but I’ve come to believe that romantic love may be a blend of the way we love our parents and our children. When I recognized that my parents would not be with me for very much longer, I held them both in my hearts in the tenderest way possible, with the knowledge that our time together was coming to an end. With my children, I regarded them with constant wonder that I often still feel. I tried to love them in a way that would give them freedom, so that they could grow as individuals without guilt or unnecessary obligations. I still have my opinions, but I don’t stop them from doing anything. If we could recognize that the same fragility exists in romantic love, as does the need to remain in awe of our partner’s individuality, and if we could feel the difference between embracing gently and holding on with too much force, we will be exactly where the Buddhists want us to be. We will have solved the mystery of loving in a way that is unconditional and compassionate. We will have learned how to be totally engaged, but without unhealthy attachments.

For today’s cocktail, I decided to continue a recent experiment of creating martinis with the vodka base trimmed down to only 1.5 ounces. This creates a drink whose flavor is both simple and subtle, yet still strong. All of these drinks have contained Dolin vermouth, Blanc or Dry, and an additional spirit that is known for having lots of flavor. All three components are still present in the cocktail even though they combine to form something new. Today’s spirit is St. Germain, which I chose because elderflowers represents the compassion we are capable of feeling for one another as human beings. It is so very ironic that we often lose the ability to regard our romantic partners in an openly compassionate way, or at the very least it becomes difficult to do so. Today’s cocktail is meant to be a gentle reminder that it is the most important thing we can do. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday!

Release and Engage

1½ oz Claremont vodka (distilled locally here in Fairfield NJ)
¾ oz Dolin Dry vermouth
¾ oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled martini glass. No garnish. Enjoy!

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