Everything is Temporary (aka: Non-Attachment)

I know it’s ironic, but I’m rather attached to the Buddhist principle of non-attachment. The basic idea is that our attachments – to people, to things, to ambitions – lead to inevitable suffering. How to avoid suffering? Remain detached.


I don’t think this means that we should not bond with others, as bonding is necessary for healthy relationships with other human beings. Non-attachment is more like living in acceptance of the constant flux of life. People change. Children grow. Relationships change. Nothing stays exactly the same no matter how much we fight it. Instead of allowing ourselves to become too attached to how we think people should be, or how we want things to be, we can choose to remain open to the possibility that nothing is permanent.

Everything is temporary.

A few months ago, I made a foray into the strange and scary world of online dating. (Yes, I know. About time!) I bought a subscription to a well-known paid dating site, which presented me with a lot of nothing, a little meh, one maybe that turned quickly into a maybe-not, and then…POW! Just when I was ready to give up, I met my dream guy. Not kidding. This man was my ideal match in every possible way. So much so, that My coworkers, kids, and I jokingly referred to him as Mr. TGTBT (To Good to Be True). And as our online and cell phone encounters advanced to real-life get-togethers, I became more and more enamored with him. Aside from our incredibly long list of similarities, Mr. TGTBT was also kind, funny, attractive, and intelligent. And he was into me, too – wow! Needless to say, we both had a wonderful time whenever we were together.

Until we broke up this week.

So what happened? He was also dating another women he’d met on the same dating site, and chose her instead of me. Yeah. Ouch.

I cried, of course. It was painful to be rejected (again). But more than that, it was painful to realize that I will never get to spend time with him again. Painful to lose someone after finally letting down my walls and sharing so much of myself. Painful to say goodbye to someone who had quickly become a very important person to me.

But then, the tears subsided. Because I remembered. Remembered all I’ve been through, and all I’ve learned from past years of suffering. Remembered that the pain does not have to equal suffering. Remembered that I now know the secret to letting go is to never hold on in the first place.

And there it was – acceptance. It was not like I had ended a very real and meaningful, if short, relationship. It felt more like I had awoken from a very pleasant dream. One which I would be happy to return to, with him. But still, no more than a dream. Mr. TGTBT was just that. No person in real life can be that perfect for you. No real-life romance could be that sweet. And maybe in that dream world I had to let go of, he will go on to find happiness with the other woman, and the idea of him being happy makes me feel happy, even if he is not with me.

Well, mostly happy. I do have this constant knot in my stomach that makes it hard to eat. But like dreams, like friendships, like romance, like everything in life, that, too, is temporary.

So now, the Best Dream Ever has ended, and I return to real life, here in the Cave. Real life of challenging myself in my career, and raising teens, and discovering great new books to read, and eating healthy (once my appetite returns), and exercising, and writing stories, and learning, and growing. It is a peaceful kind of life, and content. None of the drama, insecurity, or angst that seem to go hand-in-hand with relationships. I’ve canceled my dating site membership and have no plans to ever date again. No, not due to bitterness, or the hurt of rejection. That’s not it at all. It’s this: after Mr. TGTBT, I know that it’s all downhill. No real life man will ever be able to measure up. And I have no desire to challenge that theory. Period.

Maybe I have managed to figure out the art of non-attachment, but I have not managed to figure out people. How is it that so many people can allow themselves to be vulnerable, to share so much with another human being, knowing that it will all be temporary? To know that an important person will fade away, still clutching the treasures you gave them, and then to go out and do it all over again with another person? And another? Doesn’t it seem pointless? Doesn’t it seem as fruitless as a wonderful dream, which too, will fade away like it never happened? Isn’t the pain unbearable, especially for those of you who choose to love deeply, to hold on tightly? What is the prize you win for suffering?

Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)

 

human connection contact

Connection.

After food and water (and, some would say, sex), connection may be the greatest thing we crave.

It’s why we become slaves to our cell phones, eyes glued to the tiny glowing screens, anxiously awaiting word from our contacts. It’s why we flock to social media. Our comments and Tweets, likes and shared memes are like drops of water, filling our empty cups. We need to reach out, to have meaningful conversations, to belong.

Connection used to be a simple thing. People rose in the morning and connected with family around the breakfast table. Or exchanged greetings at the local market, met with customers face-to-face, shared personal struggles and successes with neighbors, with coworkers, with fellow churchgoers. You were a member of the community – not a virtual one artificially contrived to group together the like-minded, but a real life community of people with real names (not user names) and real faces (not avatars).

Remember those days? Neither do I.

Imagine! Working side-by-side in a community garden while chatting with a human being instead of chiming in on a gardening forum online. Going for a jog or walk with a regular group instead of running alone, then posting your milestones on social media. Arguing with your local book club discussion group about the finer points of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World instead of tossing your personal review into the virtual soup.

Connection – real connection, is intimate. It has eye contact, and touch, and awkward pauses. It is the surprise of saying the same words at the same time (jinx!). It is the smell of someone else’s cologne, the sounds of sighs and tongue clicks, the inflection of voices.

It is ironic that I write of these things, since I am a writer and deeply introverted, and enjoy my time alone more often than time interacting with people. But once in a while, I actually crawl out of my cave to explore the human world. As I happened to be doing just the other day, during a somewhat routine 10-minute stop at the supermarket.

supermarket aisle shopping cartAs I pushed my cart down Aisle 4, an elderly woman leaned forward on her walker and complimented my dress. “It is so pretty, and it goes so nicely with your skin. You have lovely skin,” she added. “You are so lucky that it doesn’t burn easily.”

I flashed the woman a grateful smile, and nearly continued on my way, but stopped. What if this woman was not just offering a compliment? What if she was reaching out, seeking connection? “That’s true,” I told her. “But the trade-off is that it is harder for me to absorb Vitamin D from the sun.”

“It is?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “I never knew that.”

The conversation continued, revolving around the challenges and benefits of my toasty brown skin and her pale, Irish complexion. We spoke of race relations throughout the generations, and of travel, and of the ups and downs of relating to siblings. My 10-minute shopping trip stretched out an additional 30 minutes. But that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the mini-miracle of two complete strangers having an actual, meaningful dialogue about life right there in the aisle of the supermarket. Connecting. Just as everyone used to do, I imagine, in the days before cell phones and the internet.

At last, we said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the unexpected and strangely satisfying experience. Who knows if we will come across one another again? Maybe that is the sort of thing that only happens in small communities. But still, my cup was filled, and I imagine hers was, too. Now, of course, I ironically must relay the experience here in the virtual world. But perhaps in reading these words, you, too, may decide to pause when the opportunity arises, put your cell phone away, and connect with a real, live human being.

community

 

Space Invaders (aka: A Touchy Subject)

A stranger hugged me yesterday. It was during the course of a group ELL conversation, and he was trying to illustrate some point. I stiffened, and patiently endured the awkward moment until the stranger pulled away. Later, he seemed to realize the faux pas he had committed and apologized profusely.

“It’s okay,” I assured him. But inside, I was thinking the opposite. It was really not okay.

I am not a hugger.

awkward-hugs

 

Not because I am cold and unaffectionate by nature. In fact, I am generous with hugs and cuddles with my kids, a strong maternal instinct at work. I offer the usual hugs and kisses to relatives or long-lost family friends when the occasion presents itself. But beyond that, I am not into being touchy-feely, preferring the safe virtual {{{HUGS}}} of internet peeps. (Even the obligatory handshake makes me want to reach for a bottle of hand-sanitizer, but that’s a different story).

Have I always been this way? It’s hard to say. I didn’t date at all in college before I met my now ex-husband. And when we married, I was the perfect gift — a chaste, untouched little Christian wifey. Just like that, I learned, my body was no longer my own. According to my ex-husband (and, apparently, the Bible), my body belonged to him, not to me. Translation: it was my wifely duty to do whatever he wanted, even when I didn’t like it or feel like it.

Unfortunately, I also learned that I hated sex. It was an always uncomfortable, mostly painful, rarely pleasurable event that I grudgingly accepted as my fate. The moment it was over, I couldn’t wait to scoot away to my own little edge of our king-sized bed, as far away as possible from the person who insisted on putting me through such torture night after night.

Okay, maybe torture is too dramatic of a word. But still, it was awful, and I hated it.

As the years passed, and nothing got better, I developed an aversion. Not only to sex itself, but to anything that might lead to it. That included kisses, hugs, and cuddling of any kind. But the bigger I drew my personal space bubble, the more my ex insisted on invading it. The more I expressed my discomfort with sex, the more he insisted we have it. The more we had it, the bigger my aversion grew. And so on.

Long story short, after seventeen years of yuck, I got divorced. (Happy ending).

But the aversion to being touched remains.

control yourself

I did learn, thanks to a fling with a guy we’ll call my “post-divorce experiment,” that cuddling, when it’s wanted, can be quite nice. However, something inside me freezes ice cold at the uninvited touch of another person. When other humans unknowingly step inside my bubble of personal space, panic boils up like a geyser, and I instinctively begin to search for an escape route.

So how do I avoid situations that may lead to the violation of my personal space? Maybe I should stop showering every morning. Maybe I could start a fashion line of barbed-wire accessories, and call it Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Or, more simply, avoid uncomfortable real life situations with strangers by staying home in my safe little cave, behind the glowing computer screen, where {{{HUGS}}} are totally acceptable.

virtual hugz

Make_Small_Talk (aka: Interacting With Real Live Humans)

One of the hardest things about dealing with real, live humans is small talk.

Seriously. I mean, what is the deal with small talk? It’s like standing around nibbling cheap, store-bought appetizers instead of sitting down to a delicious, homemade main course.

Dilbert Small Talk Participate

You never know when you will be faced with this dreaded interaction. There you are, sitting in your cubicle, or riding in an elevator, or innocently heating up your leftovers in the break room, when bam! Another person shows up. This can be just about anybody – a stranger, a coworker, your boss, your boss’s boss. No matter who appears, you have little choice but to hit the F5 key and run the program, Make_Small_Talk.

It typically goes something like this:

Me:                        Hi, how was your weekend?

Person:                Pretty good. Yours?

Me:                        Not too bad. Busy with kids and stuff.

Person:                Yeah, me too. But I got a lot done.

Water Cooler Small Talk

Once in a while, I am tempted to mix things up a little, just to keep things interesting. Maybe something like:

Person:              How was your weekend?

Me:                        Great! I got a lot done, and left no evidence behind, so they’ll never catch me…

Or I could be like those people who give you waaaaay more information that you ever wanted to know, like:

Person:                How was your weekend?

Me:                        Well, it was fine until I started throwing up. I must have clogged the toilet six times! Then I had to go see the doctor, and he said I might have the Avian Flu or Ebola or something, so they had to draw blood and check my stool samples for parasites and bacteria. Then I developed this awful wet cough. I mean, listen – *hack hack!*

My two favorite alternatives to making small talk are:

  1. Wear earbuds 100% of the time and pretend that I don’t notice when others are talking to me.
  2. Avoid all places where people may be present, thus avoiding all unnecessary human interaction.

One problem with those alternatives, however, is that you may never get to know important details about other people, like what their favorite sports teams are, or how many kids they have, so that you can then inquire about those details the next time you make small talk. Also, no one will have any idea who you are, so then you’ll never win the popularity contest and earn a promotion at work.

(Make_Small_Talk = Brownie Points + 10).

I guess that making small talk is just one of those rules of being a grownup. Kind of like cleaning out the refrigerator or making medical appointments. No matter how cumbersome it may be, and no matter how much it irks your inner INTJ, you just have to grin and get through it. And if you’re lucky, maybe those appetizers will eventually lead to a main course.

 

 

Viva la Vida Virtual (aka: Be There)

Our Wi-Fi stopped working yesterday for like, five whole minutes. In our house, that constitutes an emergency. “Fix it, Mo-oooom!” groaned my kids, who are convinced that I can now fix anything computer and network-related. “I was in the middle of a video game/homework research/Skyping with friends!”

tech addict kidsI’m pretty sure my household isn’t the only one like this. It’s a fact of life; we now live in a society that is oversaturated with tech. Wearable tech, smartphone tech, computer tech — it’s everywhere. And thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things), all of our millions and billions of tech devices can even connect to the internet and communicate with each other.

Ten years ago, when the internet had made the leap from a cool new trend to an everybody-has-to-have-it necessity, we all marveled and said, “We are more connected than we ever have been before.” Which was true. Only now, we are more connected than ever to the 100th power.

Or are we?

looking at cell phone

What does it mean to be “connected?” Is it really about the invisible streams of data — the googols of imperceptible bits flowing through the air, linking one computer to the next? Is connection the ability to trade emoji smiles and offer virtual {{{hugs}}} when someone is struggling? Are we more connected because of the speed with which we can post a pretty photo or meaningful quote, then click like on that of another fellow human being? It is amazing, isn’t it? We are now so connected, that we can share every bit of our lives without ever being in the same room. We can be there without being there.

And we forget.

staring at computer screen

We become so absorbed in our virtual worlds, that we lose sight of what it means to live a full and rich life. We’ve created a new kind of normal, in which we stare at silent photos of nature scenes and drool over plates of well-presented exotic foods. We huddle in groups, hunched over our phones, each chuckling at some private joke which doesn’t exist beyond the screen. We forget how he throws back his head as he laughs, eyes catching the light. We stop noticing the light and airy way she walks, as though dancing on tiptoe. The tiny details of the real world are faded, like an Instagram photo with a vintage filter.

We forget what it means to be there.

There, in the moment. When the dark clouds peel away, revealing a fiery red sunset. And the air smells so damp and rich with fresh rain that you breathe it in. And not for a moment do you think, “I must take a photo of this gorgeous sunset to post on Facebook!” Because you are too busy being there. Tasting that spicy shrimp, drizzled with garlic butter. Holding her hand as you stroll through the city, paying attention to the lines and curves that form each building. Listening to your daughter as she tells a funny story about what happened at school that day. Leaning forward, drinking in the details about the people who surround you. The fragrant smell of soap, mingled with minty toothpaste. The scuffed shoes, worn hands.

real connection puzzle piecesThe good parts of life that stoke your senses and settle in your memories don’t translate well across a fiber optic underground cable. They don’t always appear on screen. Ten years from now, you won’t remember the goofy cat video your brother-in-law’s cousin shared on your Facebook wall. Your text conversations and virtual adventures will be forgotten as quickly as PDAs. The things that will matter then are all around you now — live, and in 3D. Imagine! You can travel to countless new locations anywhere in the world. You can get up close and have face-to-face conversations with real, live people. You can be there. You can connect with the world at real-time speed, with no lags. What’s more, you won’t even need Wi-Fi.

real people talking over coffee

Paper Lives and Paper People (aka: Misimagination)

  “You had been a paper boy to me all these years – two dimensions as a character on the page and two different, but still flat, dimensions as a person. But that night, you turned out to be real.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

paper town map

One of the books that I recently finished during my summer reading spree was Paper Towns, by John Green. Although I found the story itself to be, well, mediocre, the author managed to strike a few surprising chords that still echo within me.

From the very beginning, I thought I knew the story. Troubled teen, Margo Roth Spiegelman, makes impulsive choices to gain attention from others. Disillusioned with life in what she describes as a “paper town,” she runs away. The main character, Quentin Jacobsen, who is in love with Margo almost to the point of obsession, disrupts his own life to follow the clues Margo left behind, determined to find her.

Aha, I think. Now I understand the theme of this story, and the meaning of Paper Towns.

“All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

where is Margo Roth But I am wrong. Just as Quentin discovers that he doesn’t really know Margo Roth Spiegelman, I discover that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in regards to this story’s theme. Margo Roth Spiegelman is more than just a metaphor – she is a real-life girl. And guess what? Paper Towns are a real-life thing (which both exist and yet do not really exist).

But that’s not all. As the story continues to unfold, I learn yet another concept of paper people from paper towns. They are the people who we create of the people who actually exist. Everyone takes the stories that they had heard of Margo and uses those stories to form a “paper,” 2-dimensional version of her. Likewise, Margo uses her memories of friendship with Quentin to create a 2-dimensional, fictional version of him.

misimagined How often do we do this? How often do we read celebrity gossip or see flashes of these celebrities in the media, then use those to tiny snapshots to determine who they are? How often do we take in tiny bits of information about the people around us, then assemble those ideas into a shallow, incomplete version of a person?

Do we shake off our complacency, like Quentin, and make an effort to get to know the real life human being before us? Or do we content ourselves with the fake, 2-dimensional, paper image of that person which we have created in our own imaginations? How real do we allow other people to become? Are we disappointed when the real-life person fails to live up to the false paper image in our minds?