I sat reading this morning in the shadows of dawn, night ebbing away as light streamed into the window and onto the pages. In the next room lay my mat, my meditation seat, the window alter of candles and sage, remnants of fire ceremonies, offerings and intentions. Their presence beckoned a practice; yet, I could not leave the pages of the memoir in front of me. An achingly exquisite memoir of friendship, intimacy, and attachment. My practice this morning, I knew, would be without chanting, sutras, or movement.
These words would be my only meditation.
So I read Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, and my heart itched with longing at her description of rambling walks with her best friend, Caroline, and their dogs along wooded pathways and sunset-emblazoned rivers. I wept with grief when Caroline’s cancer and – subsequent death –interrupted their story. The loss vibrated from the page to my chest.
I found myself taking big gulps of air as my breathing became shallow, but still I read.
Tears poured down my cheeks.
My nose dripped.
But still I read about these two friends who existed in a cocoon of their own making, one equally transformative as a chrysalis to a butterfly. Women whose relationship transcended their collective false starts of addiction and diseased love affairs. Women who attached.
Attachment. It’s that idea we all ponder as yogis, isn’t it? According to the Yoga Sutras, Vairagya – nonattachment – is learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self. Sounds easy enough, but the simplicity of the definition belies its inherent complexity.
If everything is made of opposing forces, after all, then we can both cling to the judgment and expectations that inhibit self-actualization and cling to the idea of non-attachment. We can recognize and own our attachments as imperative to our growth and refuse to attach because somehow it’s easier to emotionally contain or dispose of one another that way.
In bearing witness to those moments, it’s difficult to uphold the Sutras as absolute, and I walk along its uneven path conscious of the weight of the contradictions.
I also study attachment theory as part of my work, and it posits an infant’s attachment to at least one primary caregiver is necessary for normal social and emotional development. When this dyadic interaction doesn’t occur, the child’s neurological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral functioning is compromised and can manifest in serious and heart-wrenching ways throughout one’s life. To put it simply, attachment is a developmental necessity for us mortals. We are essentially wired to cling. We are born to dance with the intimacy of human connection and need. Whether we want to claim it or not, biologically we are all what Gail Caldwell alludes to in her memoir as “addicted to attachment.”
Perhaps we don’t find the answers by asking the questions but in experiencing the process that is attachment. Maybe it’s less about espousing one philosophy and more about finding our own realities – be it in the safety of our intimate attachments or through our individual and collective struggles to release them (detaching from the Yoga Sutras… try that one on for size!).
It is now evening. As the sun lowers and I near the end of my meditation – Gail and Caroline’s story – I know only this: attachment can bring us the truest expression of joy and the harshest communion with heartache. There are times when clinging to it might be the only thing keeping us alive so we’re actually here to let it go when the time comes, as it surely will. When it does, we will be stronger for the attachment, and we will survive its departure.
As Caldwell says, like a starfish, the heart endures its amputation.