Something to Lose
Attachment makes life worth living. Detachment makes life livable.
The moment we let ourselves believe we have something to lose is the moment we let paranoia invade.
Think of your nice home burning to ashes, your sexy car stolen and totaled, your exciting job offer evaporating, your partner leaving you, your best friend betraying you.
It’s easy to get lost in a fantasy of futuristic self-pity, anticipating how much worse life would be were you to lose your favorite things. But would life actually be worse? Is there not a silver lining to every loss? Does not the crumbling of every structure create space for new art and play? A crumbled home is an opportunity to enjoy smaller spaces; a totaled car is an opportunity to explore environments by foot and bicycle; a lost job is a chance to sharpen your instincts and consider better positioning; a failed relationship is a chance to look inward and cultivate self-love. Losing things builds character and reminds you who you are. It strips you of the excess, dissolves the mirages, and wakes you up from your dreams. It allows you to be the hero of your own journey. Without conflict, we would decay boring and stagnant.
When the things you depend on vaporize into smithereens lost to the ether, you’re left only with your inner faculties. Your gut, your heart, your soul, your mind, your body.
Have we as a species forgotten what it means to live in nature, where we have no right to permanence, where the hunt is the “thing,” where self-reliance is the game and inner faculties are the assets? Our social systems prize security and stability over readiness and resilience, and to our individual detriment. Lost, we look to silly tools like guns for protection. We’re not fooling anybody but ourselves.
So if attachment to the external has such a paralytic effect on our inherent human resilience, why don’t we all just become monks? Because it’s not that simple. In fact, it’s a paradox.
The same sense of attachment which makes us fragile and paranoid also makes possible the most miraculous element of humanity: meaning. A life devoid of attachment is a life devoid of meaning. And a life devoid of meaning is a life devoid of passion, wonder, ambition, admiration, and love. When we let ourselves assign meaning to people and things outside ourselves, we let ourselves experience the most precious thing in the world: connection. Everything that makes life worth living comes from the meaning we derive from relationships and associations.
But what’s dangerous is when we let our attachments steal our center of gravity, delude our sense of reality, and become the source of love we depend on in order to love ourselves. The truth that few will admit is that attachments are only meaningful because they will die. The relationships and associations which give us love only mean so much to us because we know they won’t last forever. To deny a relationship’s transience is to preclude the realization of its true magnificence. To acknowledge a relationship’s transience is to freeze time and permit the emergence of beauty.
And beautiful things don’t ask for attention. Beautiful things don’t cling to permanence. They blend with nature, accept change, and evolve with time.
Attachment makes life worth living. Detachment makes life livable. The romantic and the austere, the Epicurean and the Stoic, the yin and the yang.
Perhaps the only thing we have to lose is perspective. The perspective to understand and prioritize those relationships worthy of our attachment, the perspective to recognize mortality as the mother of beauty, and the perspective to remember how resilient we humans really can be.
Ted Gonder is a social entrepreneur on a mission to even the odds for future generations. Click here to subscribe to quarterly updates, useful links, and lessons learned.