Holding a Tiger by the Tail: Letting Go of Attachment

Minimalist Re-balancing

Post written by Monica Gaylor.  Image from the Chinese Art Store.com.

“Grasping at things can only yield one of two results: Either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself disappear. It is only a matter of which occurs first.” ~ Goenka

I have a tendency to dwell.  My mind takes hold of an idea, or several related ideas, and it stays there, mulling over every possible conclusion, outcome, and strategy.  Some would probably call it obsessive.  I suspect that maybe it is an artistic quality / skill.  It’s creativity and problem solving on steroids.  And it works to my great advantage when I am obsessing over how to build a particular sculpture, or paint a particular area of a painting, or I’m dwelling on a certain plot line or character arc.  So, I wouldn’t want to get rid of this skill.  But, it’s one of those dangerous abilities like nuclear fusion – where one could either build a bomb or power a city.  I think it’s a lot like holding a tiger by the tail – you have to let it go at the exact right moment before it becomes dangerous and a menace to your life.

This tendency to dwell can be almost debilitating when my mind wants to focus on something that is unimportant or non-essential.  The sad thing is that the “mind” doesn’t know the difference.  (See:  The Dragon’s Tail.)  When I enter one of these obsessive times I understand perfectly the Buddha’s quote:  “The root of all suffering is desire (or attachment, or illusion).”  (Note:  I have seen it written several ways, but the meaning is the same.)  I become so focused on some desire to be achieved that I forget to live in the moment, to simply be what I am and enjoy what I have – rather than to plan and imagine and find fault with where I am and what I have now.

“There is nothing so disobedient as an undisciplined mind, and there is nothing so obedient as a disciplined mind.” ~ The Buddha

A person can be attached to many things.  These things could be physical items, ideas, beliefs, preconceptions be they cultural or personal, illusion, prejudice, etc.  I have heard and read and thus come to understand that attachments come in two sizes – real and imagined.  But, if we really boil down that “idea” – all attachments become imagined attachments.  For example, I like that physical or real item (ex. – pants) because they give me an imagined result (ex. – make me look slim).  But actually, neither of these things is real.  We live in a completely fabricated world.

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” ~ The Buddha

I recently became attached to the idea of being a minimalist.  Although I believe I have been a minimalist, at the core of my being, since my 20’s when I experienced the epiphany of what “stuff” really is to each individual.  (See: My Story.)  Of course, way back then we didn’t call ourselves minimalists.  If there was a term for it, I didn’t know what it was.  Minimalism to me was an art movement that took place in the 60’s and 70’s and ran its course.  I had a personal philosophy that centered on not purchasing too much stuff and instead focused on having satori life-experiences.  I did not fall into the trap of calling myself a Buddhist, Taoist, or practitioner of Zen, instead I just lived the life I dreamed independent of any labels.

“Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.” ~ The Buddha

I only recently began calling myself a minimalist because that is what the pop culture phenomenon evolved into and what one must type into google in order to get the related articles.  I only discovered this after typing in “simplify your life” yielded inadequate results and the internet magically led me to minimalism (you know how it does that.)

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” ~ The Buddha

Herein lies the problem with labels.  Once you start calling yourself by a label it comes to define you because the “mind” doesn’t know the difference.  I found myself thinking about minimalism far too much of the time.  My thinking went something like this:  I write a blog and sometimes it is about minimalism – so I must be a good minimalist.  How can I get rid of more stuff?  I need to move into a smaller space?  I commute in a car to work and all around town – I am a horrible minimalist.  I must move to a city where I don’t have to own a car in order to be a good minimalist.

“The mind is the source of happiness and unhappiness.” ~ The Buddha

There was a battle royal raging between my “mind” and my inner nature or authentic self.  Maybe I would “like” the things I thought about and listed above, but my real self just wants to be free of the suffering, the I wants, and the attachment.  I was obsessively thinking of how nice and perfect my life would be if I moved to a city with good public transportation and rented an apartment that was much tinier than the tiny house that I now own.  I was held captive and “suffered” by the ramblings of my mind, the attachment to the idea of being a good minimalist.

“As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.” ~ The Buddha

I seemed to forget that the whole point of having and buying less was to have time to be myself and enjoy what I have.  I don’t have a lot stuff, but some of what I count in my haves are non-physical things or constructs, like time and space.  Time = to do art, write, and be and a career carefully chosen to give it to me.  Space = studio space actually carefully planned and carved into my tiny house to make it easy to work whenever the inspiration arises.

Long ago I set out on a path to get all the “things” that I have now, and instead of being in nirvana and sated my mind decided to go off on some wild goose chase and forgot to just be happy and content and live in the moment.

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” ~ The Buddha

I recently had surgery and thus a lot of time to lie around and think.  I didn’t go on the internet for about six weeks and this left me with time to ponder my own thoughts.  One day it dawned on me, coincidentally around the time I was beginning to feel really good, that I should just relax and enjoy my time and space and instead spend my time, not obsessing about the perfect life somewhere else, but living the perfect life here and now.  And then I began to write.  I began to work intensely on the sci-fi novel that I had not worked on in years, since before starting this blog.  It was like my mind became flexible and open and the creativity poured out.  I have also started to paint again with renewed intensity and passion.

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” ~ The Buddha

Minimalism could be thought of as tool on the path to enlightenment (the Outer Rim), rather than a place to dwell. By eliminating some of the things and stuff and all of the baggage that comes with the things and stuff perhaps we can stop, take a breath, and just be content for a fleeting moment in time.  Perhaps we could feel the space dust that floats through our DNA and molecules and thus touch the flow of universal energy that makes everything eternal.

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” ~ The Buddha

It seems an apt time to direct you to my first post and reason for the name of my blog.  Please see:  The “Outer” what?

“The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.” ~ Babylon 5

May the journey be long and powerful.