Monday, September 13, 2010

Attach. Release. Repeat.

"Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world; it's accepting that they go away."
Shunryu Suzuki

I used to pride myself on being unattached to things. I liked to say that I could fit all my possessions into my car, and that's the way I liked it. I couldn't imagine that motherhood would change me into a thing collector, hanging onto ancient pacifiers and faded locks of hair. My humbling proceeded swiftly, when the day came that I had to admit, really admit, that my daughter had outgrown her first wardrobe—the truly tiny, surely no one is this small, hats and shoes, shirts and pants, dresses and pajamas. “We have to keep this one,” I said to my husband, clutching the giraffe sleeper I had put her in at the hospital. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I felt almost sick. I couldn’t remember which of the white hospital shirts was the first one she had ever worn and I wanted to know because I wanted to keep that one.

As it turned out, I wanted to keep almost everything. I felt my attachment like a hot hand clutching the core of my being—the very same attachment that Jesus, the Buddha, Patanjali, and myriad other enlightened masters have clearly pegged as the source of all human suffering. Clinging to the material world creates pain because whatever you are clinging to will absolutely, positively, no two ways about it, change. Disappear. Transform into something different. Become obsolete. Case in point: the teeny tiny giraffe sleeper bag. And of course, it wasn’t the clothes I couldn’t bear to let go. What I couldn’t bear to let go was already irretrievably gone.

When you hold something beautiful and sublime in your hungry hands--your baby, your lover, a moment, a phase--you want to hold onto it forever. It's human nature. And yet, letting go, over and over and over again, is the only sane response. Being a mother seems to be all about this paradox, of needing to hold on and contain and attach profoundly to our children--that's the job--followed by the necessity of letting go, with some measure of confidence, but absolutely no guarantees--that's also the job. We have to do both. We have to embody, daily, these opposite impulses. It's not easy. This is why there's so much weeping at graduations and weddings and the first day of Kindergarten--the sadness of what is passing and the joy of what is coming to be arise simultaneously in equal and opposite measure and the next thing you know, your mascara is running down your face and your kids are embarrassed.

In the end, I kept two tiny hats and a pair of shoes, and you can pry them from my cold, dead fingers when I finally give up the ghost. They are symbols of the ego softening truth of impermanence and my own human frailty. And, I can fit them in my car, in my glove compartment, even. I'm still like, totally Zen, right?