“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.–Douglas Adams
A coworker and I were talking after school one day about plans for the work week, the schedule, and what we were planning. It was a brief exchange as he was preparing to leave for the day, and I was settling into grading papers.
I jokingly said, as he headed out of the door, “You know it’s all an illusion. We can plan all we want, but who knows how it will really unfold.”
This made us both laugh and shake our heads because we both know as teachers no matter how much thought, effort, and time we put into planning for our students, things rarely go as predicted. Schedules can change and/or students’ level of attention, understanding, or even behavior can completely alter our well–intended plans, creating the need to pivot quickly, adapt and modify plans.
Sure enough, the very next day, plans for the week had changed. We rethought and restructured our plans. The next day arrived with another change. Before long, how the week actually turned out was very different from how it was originally conceived.
I share this, not as a point of negativity, but rather as a point of reality. Rarely does life unfold as we plan for it. Nonetheless, I still tend to cling to schedules and routines since I am not naturally organized. However, I have learned to embrace the word “flux” over the years. In fact, I am realizing that my attachment to “how things should be” is all just one big illusion.
Furthermore, my illusion is due to my attachment to “control,” which, in fact, is also an illusion. The desire for control is a gripping cycle for many of us. Our attachment to ______ (how things were, how they should be, or how they could be) reflects our wish for control. It also helps to create the illusion that we will be happy if everything “goes according to plans.” However, when things don’t go as we had hoped, we can feel downhearted or disappointed.
However, it’s not just schedules and outcomes to which we attach ourselves. We can attach ourselves to friends, family, groups, teams, circumstances, positions, things and so forth. We begin to identify with those people, those groups, those situations, and so forth. Even our address becomes a point of attachment.
Unfortunately, these attachments can sometimes allow stress to enter our lives when/if we lose one of these identifiers, things, or when circumstances change. Sometimes a change can become nearly debilitating due to our grief and sense of loss. Other times, our anxiety spirals out of control from the pressure we feel as a result of expectations caused by our attachments.
Again, none of this is inherently bad. We are all human beings, experiencing the very human need for belonging, validation, and contribution. However, it might be helpful to also allow for some amount of detachment as we move through life. This is because when we attempt to only hold on to what feels familiar and comfortable, we can sometimes prevent ourselves from experiencing a newfound way to experience joy and happiness. Therefore, it is worth remembering the importance of letting go, or at the very least, holding loosely, in order to allow for new, unimagined life experiences.
I was thinking more about this attachment-control-illusion cycle as I went for my weekly long run one morning along the tree lined paths of Ritter park. Jogging alongside those noble limbed sentinels, I realized that trees are not attached to one another. Instead, they function independently, even though they are part of a collective landscape.
Numerous dogs, people, and other creatures move in all directions under the shelter of the branches. Chunky squirrels and round robins flit up, down, and all around outstretched tree arms. All the while, neither do the trees attach their identity to or make plans for any of this, nor do they try to control it.
The trees did not seek my attention, and yet I couldn’t help but notice them. Neither did the trees seem to need my praise or approval. Nonetheless, my mind kept marveling at the way their leaves were beginning to bud while at the same time birds were creating neighborhoods of nestled nests. Likewise, without being attached to a certain group, I could still identify the various types of trees.
The park trees, like all trees, are independently rooted in the soil and work with the circumstances in which they find themselves planted. They do not, per se, have expectations or plans for how their growing season should unfold. In fact, they can’t even count on predictable circumstances from year to year, so changeable is the weather.
No matter their situation, and without any attachments or attempts to control, trees still manage to contribute. They act as a refuge for food and shelter for birds and other animals/insects. During warmer months, their well-dressed branches provide cooling shade for people and creatures alike. Trees even offer opportunities for raucous fun as squirrels chase one another all around their trunks and branches while birds play hide and seek, singing songs of tidings.
Near the end of my jog, the sun began to burn through the tapestry of clouds. As the glistening light gradually emerged, the overcast dullness gave way. Instantly, I felt less encumbered by tired legs, and a renewed vigor filled my heart and lungs.
I was then reminded of how cloudy our thinking can become when we fall prey to our self-inflicted illusions. Furthermore, I began to see that there is no pushing through attachments and the illusions our attachments create. Rather, it is a practice we must intentionally pursue through patience, perseverance, and most of all gentleness, which is not easy. However, the more we can recognize when we are attaching, the more often we may be better able to lightly detach.
Personally, I still like predictable plans as well as my coworker. Nonetheless, similarly to the way the sunlight lifted my spirits as I jogged, I know that the more we can detach or grasp less to our so-called illusory plans/attachments, the more we can experience unexpected, and dare I say, unplanned, moments of joy!