I used to habitually walk down the street and wonder who I’d meet. Secretly, I hoped to meet some exotic woman exactly meant for me.
How would I know? Simple. She’d be perfectly beautiful, sharp as a razor, kind as can be, and utterly devoted to me, all upon first impact.
I can’t tell if it’s surprising or not, but essentially no one fit that profile… Starting with the first criterion, my weed-out process began.
A couple of times a year I’d see someone who struck me as “perfectly beautiful”! And this is when I’d get caught off guard. Of course, the lady would never approach me, nor me her, because I’m much too shy! And the times I’d catch sight of such a woman when I was a monk, I’d want to duck for cover!
But there was something I noticed about this rare game of seek and go hide. It was really hard for me emotionally... And I didn’t even know the person! That was startling, to say the least. How could I be emotionally involved with a stranger?! I wrote 19 stories about winsome girls I chased to no avail without knowing why.
Seeing a perfectly beautiful lady in a stranger on the streets of India at the end of 2014 provided me the answer. It was almost too obvious, yet I somehow couldn’t grasp its peppered effects on my life:
What we don’t regularly find, we naturally place more value on as a rare commodity – this then breeds deeper attachment for that rare commodity...
I was stunned as I did a cursory inventory of my life then and there. My God, this was written all over me! I’d go out to eat and find that there was a rare cuisine I’d seek to taste for my growing repertoire of uniquely perfect experiences. If I’d go back and it didn’t taste quite as perfect, it was a major loss!
Films I loved that spoke directly to the heart of me became transcendent icons that were larger than life and tied to my identity. Accordingly, I’d have recurring nightmares of my DVDs, CDs, and books being stolen or burning in a fire.
I’d arrive at a scene that was exquisite where friends of mine converged at an intimate Parisian party and the memorability factor would rise so high I’d fear ever leaving the scene and moving forward with my life!
The rare and the precious take up a lot of emotional real estate in the heart. These attachments weigh us down in complex ways we’re often not aware of. We get attached to what brings us pleasure. But the moment we get attached, the very nature of existence dictates that there is always the pain of loss too, for nothing in this world is permanent. And deep down, we’re terribly frightened of this temporality...
Therefore we numb our hearts. Dull ourselves to not take in too much of the pain. Necessarily that means the pleasure gets dialed down too. A numbed heart is numbed to everything...
Yet failing to numb our attachments is akin to driving at high speeds without a seatbelt or airbag. The fast-paced lifestyle of trying to enjoy our attachments forever is hardly a prudent proposition. Time always runs out… So what do we do?
I realized what I must do to ensure my safety in dealing with attachment:
Recognize before I commoditize.
Recognize that the rarity is ensnaring. As soon as I brought attention to this with the Indian woman on the street, I could catch the lasso before it landed on me. And sometimes, I could choose to let it hug me tightly. That discerning faculty would prove my saving grace. The choice to consciously place value, because there is something here that I recognize as truly valuable to me, and I can therefore thoughtfully grow attached in the face of inevitable pain and loss, free from obsession or illusion.
In Charles Zastrow’s You Are What You Think: A Guide to Self-Realization, he posits: “The emotion of love is often erroneously viewed as a feeling over which we have no control. A number of common expressions connote or imply this: ‘I fell in love,’ ‘It was love at first sight,’ ‘I just couldn’t help it,’ and ‘He swept me off my feet.’”
I was reluctant to believe him because I’d always lived my life falling in love with people and experiences that made me feel like an excited passenger on a wild rollercoaster ride that had no driver, and no real destination except the incredible fun along the way!
But lo and behold, after many failed relationships and many mourned losses, I find Zastrow extremely wise! We all want ecstasy without agony but given that our open hearts equally take in the pleasures and the pains of life, we often mute over letting in the latter. It is, in fact, possible to live richly, without the wild extremes or the numbness to it all! Intentionality is the key...
Recognize before we commoditize. Catch ourselves in the act and make the conscious choice to hold dear or let things pass. Sometimes we’ll slip up. We’ll choose to let in the wrong influence. To go with a flow that burns us. But if we don’t close down from the pain or try to escape it with pleasure, we’re guaranteed to learn and grow.
The truth is we really do have a choice in what we value.
I don’t have to commoditize “perfect beauty.” Yes, it’s in my nature to do so. Yes, it feels like me! But I can also look at the beauty of each soul and discover, in this way, what’s perfect for me.
I have the wherewithal to be grounded while excited. To be realistic while idealistic. To feel free while I sacrifice what doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t have to be either/or, black or white. I only have to be intentional.
Recognize before I commoditize.
And my realization today is, while we’re busy automatically commoditizing the rare, we tend to miss the very rarest of beautiful commodities, given to us, right under our nose…
The challenge before us: reverse the equation.