Often, we become attached to something or someone because deep down we fear we wouldn’t be complete without them. We fear letting go into the presence of the unknown, and feel that we would be left bereft, lost, alone without that outer possession, person, lifestyle. Indeed, some of us have become so identified with these things that we experience them as our actual identity … I’m Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so … I’m a teacher, engineer, business person … I live in … My children are … My lifestyle is … I, I, I, … My, my, my, …
Sometimes this identity can become so real for us that without it we fear there would be nothing or no one there. We fear non-existence.
Even in the asking, ‘Who would I be without my car, job, money, husband, wife, family, profile, material possessions, home, friends, contacts,’ an internal scrambling for something to cling to arises. Because of this, it’s no wonder that attachment to outer things comes up as a common experience for nearly all of us.
Then, when some spiritually arrogant youngster, posing as an all-knowing guru or enlightened sage, has the nerve to tell us that the key to Freedom lies in non-attachment, we feel indignant. ‘He’s a monk — what does he know about “true” attachment. I’m not really a materialist,’ you hear yourself say. ‘It’s natural to be attached to your loved ones, committed to your job, invested in your lifestyle, proud of what you’ve achieved, cherishing of the hard won possessions you’ve acquired through years of dedicated work. Of course it’s normal to feel attached to a home you put all your love and care into, to the knowledge you’ve spent years attaining. How could something as natural as valuing what you’ve made of yourself and your life keep you from true freedom?’
An Indian master of some material means was teaching and said, ‘Let me tell you my secret, every night, before I go to bed, I get down on my hands and knees, and I thank God with all my heart for all the blessings of the day. And then, with my whole being, I offer up to God everything I hold dear. I offer up my factories, my ashram, my homes. I offer up my students, my friends and even my beloved wife and precious children — in my mind’s eye I see the factories and ashram burnt down, I see my family and loved ones taken from me and resting in God’s arms. And when my prayer is finished, I go to sleep a poor man.
When I wake up, I look around me to greet the fresh, new day, and I see God’s grace is still surrounding me. And, flooded with gratitude, I get down on my knees and I thank God with all my heart that for one more day he has blessed me with these priceless gifts. I realise that I am only His caretaker. These gifts were never mine to begin with. They have only ever been on loan. Everything is on loan.
When I heard these words, they had a profound effect on me. They penetrated deeply, and when I arrived home after a retreat, I made a silent vow to myself that I would take this teaching into my life. Like the master in the story, each night I would take a few moments to sincerely thank God for all the blessings of the day, and would offer up to grace all that was dear to me — our home, our family, our lifestyle, my marriage, our possessions and all our material wealth. And I found that each morning I arose with a heart full of gratitude, overwhelmed that I had been blessed for yet one more day.
My relationships to the physical things around me began to take on a quality of lightness. I was fully aware that they really didn’t belong to me. They were a gift from grace, and my responsibility or dharma lay in cherishing them, honouring them and savouring the blessedness of having them around me.
I also began to view my relationships with people differently. My relationship with my daughter felt extremely precious and I viewed it as a profound blessing, and I felt an even deeper honouring take place in my marriage.
Everything around me began to feel special. Everything seemed imbued with a light, scintillating quality. I became aware of the ephemeral nature of all things in life — how short a time we really have on this planet, and how lucky we are to have the bountiful blessings we are surrounded with.
It was a simple, innocent practice, but its teachings continued to reverberate with deeper and deeper lessons about the fleeting nature of existence and how it is our gift to cherish it while it lasts.
In caring for the things around me, I also found that part of the gift was to pass on to others the blessing that had been given so graciously to me. And I began to notice that the material things in my life were able to come and go gracefully, and the completeness and gratitude I was resting in remained untouched. After a while, it became clear there was no ownership abiding anywhere … just life dancing in a vaster context of grace.
A paradox unfolded in my life. There was the profound recognition that everything was on loan, and therefore a blessing to be cherished; yet there was also a totally non-personal acceptance of letting the cherished things pass gracefully out of my life and into others’ hands if Grace so desired. I loved the gift dearly, yet felt completely neutral and unattached in its leave-taking. It really became a rich but light relationship with the outer things in my life.
And that is the gateway to true freedom.