Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Yesterday I received the following email from one of my readers.

You probably don't know me, but I get your morning thoughts every day and enjoy them very much. Any way, I have struggled with attachment and having unrealistic expectations my whole life and am now feeling drawn toward meditation and spirituality as a release for these things. I am always putting so much pressure on my self to be successful and perfect and in doing so have become intolerant and detached. I figured you may have some advice. Thanks.

We all struggle with the attachments. If you can't let something go, whether it be a person, things, or even ideas, you have attachments. There is a saying that goes, "The bird of happiness lands upon the hand that does not grasp". The Buddha teaches that all things are impermanent. This is not a negative teaching. Yes, it is true that many good people or experiences may come into our lives and later leave us. Sometimes this causes us sadness. It is probably more appropriate to be grateful for the happiness they brought us or the life lesson they taught us. Instead of being something we lost, it was a gift with an expiration date on it. As others have passed through our lives, so do we pass through theirs. We are all attached to things. I like my nice car, my CD's, my book collection and even my personal space. Of course, tomorrow someone could wreck my car and the insurance company total it. When I get home after my transit bus ride, I might discover that a thief has broken into my home and stolen all my CD's and books. I would be sad about this because I admit I am very attached to these things. However, in a more lucid and reflective moment I would realize that they are only things and can be replaced. Perhaps the happiness I thought they gave me was an illusion. People in this country and culture are obsessed with success. It all about more power, prestige, and possessions. We want to have authority over others and to be important. We believe that he who dies with the most toys wins. I even saw this last thought on a poster once. These obsessions are a serious deterrent to any deep spiritual growth. Our cultural narcissism has now spread to much of the world. Without getting political, this is why so many people in other countries and cultures dislike Americans. Our secular obsessions are in conflict with many others deeper spiritual values. Of course, their reaction to this is not always appropriate either. Much of this reaction is now called terrorism. So what is the answer? I can't give you a definitive one but I can make a suggestion. Instead of being driven to acquire more and more and more, why not explore ways to be happy with less? A former teacher once told a story about a time he was in Africa. One of the tribal elders in a small village prayed, "Lord, may our homes never have doors". In their village, their homes had no doors and everything was open and people shared. The elder's fear was that doors would destroy that feeling. Doors would keep everyone out and then people would be overly attached to everything within. On top of all of this, many of us also want to be perfect and beautiful. Of course, it is the world's standards of perfection and beauty that we use to measure ourselves. We were born perfect and beautiful. It is our own mistakes and choices that have made us less so. Most of what we think we are is a false self. The goal of the spiritual life is to return to the original, perfect, and beautiful essence of who we are in God. This is the true self. Do not think I have achieved my own spiritual ideals. I have not and there is still a long journey ahead of me before I do. I struggle with all of this as many of you do. I am awake enough to know I am struggling. I try to keep it simple. Live with kindness, share what you can, put people first, and let go of more than you acquire. Instead of adding to my life, I seek to let go of things. It's what my former teacher calls a "Spirituality of Subtraction".

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