Detaching from the illusions our attachments create

“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.”  

Photo by on

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.

Photo by Kobe – on

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. 

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

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.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

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.  

Photo by Artur Roman on

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.  

Photo by Mauriciooliveira109 on

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.  

Photo by Adam Kontor on

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! 

Photo by Sebastian Arie Voortman on

It’s never too late to Bloom

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”–Anais Nin

On sunny, but cold winter mornings, it is not unusual for me to walk past the living room and see both of our cats sprawled on the floor in the bright slant of sunshine beaming through the picture window.  Therefore, this past Saturday, as I walked through the house after my morning run, a smile of comfort spread across my face as I caught a glimpse of our two aging felines sun-bathing.  However, my brain also signaled that something was “off.”

Pausing, taking a backwards step to peer once more through an entrance way, I scanned the room.  Our male cat, the longer of the two cats, full of black fur, save one white paw, raised his head, glared at me for having the audacity to enter the room, as if I needed his permission, and meowed his disapproval of my presence.  The gray female, who is, well, she is sensitive about this, but she is, shall we say, the fluffier of the two, blinked open one eye, and then the other, attempting to register the disturbance of her basking peacefulness.  Glancing around the room, seeing nothing out of place, I turned to walk out sensing the full chill of sweat drying as my body began to cool down at a more rapid pace.

I turned to walk away, but wait, there were those alarms again.  Taking one last glance over my shoulder as I simultaneously chastised myself for having a run-away imagination, something clicked.  There was the very thing my brain had been trying in vain to communicate.  

I couldn’t believe it!  Christmas had been over a month ago as the wall calendar we still faithfully use was nearly ready to be flipped to February; and yet, there it was, the only one.  It was delicate, dainty, adored in haughty punch pink and full of pride. 

Oh, wow! I thought as I looked on in amazement at one brilliantly hued bloom on a Christmas cactus.  

In December, the entire plant had been full of blooms as bedazzled as any holiday tree.  In fact, I have two Christmas cacti in the living room, and they had both spectacularly bloomed over the course of the holiday season, beginning not long after Thanksgiving.  However, there were a handful of buds on each plant that grew with great promise, but in the end, never bloomed.  Instead, those buds held tightly together, and eventually fell off the cacti without blossoming.  All of their potential, lost in their continued grasping, waiting for the precise right time to blossom, rather than letting go of control and allowing it to happen.

Turning back to get my phone in order to take a picture, my brain, now buzzing with the excitement of the discovery, was likewise pulsating with the object lesson provided by this blossom.  A Talumedic quote sprinted through my head as my memory tried to catch its fleeting words.  Something about every blade of grass having an angel telling it to grow.  What was that quote?  Did this blossom likewise have an angel?

For the love of Pete, Stephanie, get out of your story-writing head and just enjoy the exotic beauty of this blossom.

Taking the picture, then standing to admire the flower from all angles, I no longer noticed my chilling body as I became filled with inspiration.  I know, I know, I sound so dramatic, but seriously this was special–at least in my mind.  If Divine Providence doesn’t give up on a tightly closed bud, then it surely doesn’t give up on us! If we, as humans, would just quit grasping for the safety of the known and rely in faith that there is a higher power whispering gentle encouragements of growth, we might then realize that we can blossom–even if seemingly out-of-season. 

Years ago, when I taught Kindergarten, each spring, I would order a so-called “Butterfly Garden” as a more tangible way to teach metamorphosis.  Each morning, curious faces would check the caterpillars.  They could observe the ways in which they grew, formed chrysalides, and ultimately witness the emergence of Painted Lady butterflies, wet, crumpled, and rather unrecognizable.  

Photo by Pixabay on

Nearly every year, however, there was that one chrysalis that would not open when the other Painted Ladies emerged.  Often, there were those kids who suggested that we should “break it open” as a way of helping it along the metamorphic process. I would use this as an opportunity to ask them if they liked being woken up from sleep and the comfort of their warm, cozy bed.  Of course, there were echoes of “No,” followed by the typical chatterings of five and six year olds. Eventually, in time, that snuggled up caterpillar would emerge–better late than never!

Photo by Miriam Fischer on

Dear Reader, it can be so hard for us to let go of the comfort of what-was and the arms of the-way-it has-always-been.  However, if like that cactus bud and the late developing butterfly, we can bravely release our graspings, we might find that we can blossom and take flight in a metaphorically new direction, repurposed and ready for new expressions and expanded experiences, even if at the most unexpected times.  As the bud on my Christmas cactus demonstrated, it is never too late to bloom.  

Photo by Jennifer Murray on