Three things avoided by the wise –
Expecting the impossible, grieving the irretrievable, fearing the inevitable.
This week held a difficult day for our family. It is the anniversary of my father’s death. This year marks five years since he passed away from metastatic cholangiocarcinoma. It’s a rare cancer, and has a bad prognosis. We had about six months. But only because he fought tooth and nail for them.
Grief is a funny thing. It changes as time goes on. For example, initially, I would cry and “want my father back”. Now, I remember him without crying, even gaze on photos of him that I have, and wistfully wish I could talk to him and get his advice on things. All along, I have been proud of the things that he taught me that I can do (e.g. be handy, not be afraid to try fixing something, measuring twice and cutting once, how to love and forgive).
Where the confluence comes in is my yoga homework that I’m still doing. I am still reading the 450+ page textbook called Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita. I’m almost done. But some of the parts that I was reading this week were interesting in the context of the remembrances I was doing as well. A lot of what I usually read regarding Eastern philosophies tends to focus on activities that seem to only be able to happen if one decides to fully commit oneself to a life of a monk or ascetic. But in this, there is a path of action where one can have a family, a home and live in the world while still pursuing the path of attempting to achieve Yoga (the cessation of the movements of the mind, the merging with the All – sometimes understood as nirvana or Self-realization). The path of action is such that the aspirant performs the actions that they must in order to function in society, but in a way that these actions do not build barriers to the achievement of Yoga. Actions are performed selflessly, any fruits of the labour are only used practically, and non-attachment is practiced.
Non-attachment is not apathy, and it isn’t saying that you don’t love your husband/wife or children. Think of attachment as clinging – it creates suffering and unhealthy emotions, drama and an inability to dissociate yourself from what others are thinking/saying/doing. Attachment creates lust, greed, proprietary behaviour and angst. Non-attachment is a more healthy love – you do not define yourself through your interactions with your family. You are yourself and you allow your loved ones to be themselves. Your self-confidence or position in the world are not based on what your family members are doing. They are based on your actions. It’s the difference between saying you need someone, and you want someone. I don’t need my boyfriend in my life, but I want him to be in my life. If you *need* someone, then you have an attachment. I would like my boyfriend to stay in my life because I enjoy our partnership, I enjoy talking with him, our interactions, etc. But if we decided to part ways, I would grieve but I would still be me.
This non-attachment discussion is interesting in the face of dealing with the grief of my father’s death and his now absolute physical absence from my life. I say absolute physical absence because when I was away at school, he was physically absent, but all I had to do was call home or jump on a bus and he would be there. But now, I must rely on memory and pictures to have him there. Non-attachment means I still love him, but I am able to continue living my life and progressing. This is mostly a retrospective realization – at the time, it stemmed from an acceptance in the deepest sense, and an internal conviction that my father would actually be extremely disappointed in me if I stopped living life because of my grief. He would expect more of me – to continue doing the things that he was so proud of – achieving, writing, adventuring, creating, loving – rather than allowing myself to succumb to the sadness of his passing. Little did I realize that I was practicing love from a non-attachment perspective at that moment. Look at all I could have done, and instead I did not identify myself with his passing, but accepted it, felt sadness, took some time to grieve, but inevitably continued living life, performing my actions, and keeping in my heart the lessons that I learned from him.
The third confluence is the Celtic triad that I opened the blog post with. Celtic triads are traditional wisdom nominally passed down from ages past, probably partially rewritten (or entirely written) during the Romantic Revival of Druidism. This is one of a handful that I have posted on my fridge here at home. I put them together probably during my undergraduate degree, after searching online for some Celtic pagan wisdom sayings, probably following a thread I’d found somewhere on the internet. I’ve kept them with me for probably fifteen years because I really like them and they provide very interesting pieces to contemplate.
On first glance, it seems like a pretty self-evident pithy saying – impossible things are impossible, irretrievable things are irretrievable, and inevitable things are inevitable. Don’t waste time and energy on them – simply accept them and deal with the consequences. But add that to the non-attachment and the remembrance of my father – I cannot expect my father to come back, it is impossible that I will see him again in this life. I cannot forever spend energy on grief for his irretrievable loss – I can be sad, and I can remember him, whether fondly or bittersweet. And I cannot myself fear death, as it is inevitable. And why would I fear it when so many I know and love have already passed that door? The process of dying is not pleasant but I need not fear that either. I am alive now, and that is where I should spend my energy.
So, do not create attachments to these things, spend your energy on more helpful, positive things – loving, creating, serving, doing. I know it is what my father expected of me.