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Presence and Non-Attachment

Let's talk today about attachments, living our vocation and letting go. Might as well address small, minor topics... that was a joke.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a comment, in the Phoenix Business Focus Section, that "non-attachment" is about remembering, "it's not about me, it's not personal." That comment twigged the imagination of more than a few of you. In particular, I received the following communication from my friend Donna:

Hi Wayne,

What a timely message, the part about breathing, always. On Saturday when I went skiing into a new site, I lost myself. Two hours later I'm far away from my destination, whoops, where I left the car. I have a long ways to go. Another metaphor. I'm getting my knickers in a knot about being 'so far away', 'losing myself' and blaming me for such a poor sense of direction as I trudge along. Suddenly the Wayne voice pops up: 'or you can breathe,' which I did. Immediately I was noticing my landscape, giving thanks for the privilege of experiencing snow, woods, old stone buildings, and the light effects of an overcast but calm day.

The car was still there. I had to bribe the dog to get into it. Did she want to spend more time, I wonder? Here I had been thinking she was tired, exhausted, and thirsty. Wrong again. She was happy being in the moment. I need to remember that dog quality.


Now, you begin to see from this example that far from being lost or dying in the woods, the writer was actually non-present and very attached. The attachment was to an old belief that she could "lose herself," and in order to go there, she needed to go into her head and think about "all the times I've been lost."

Now, think about it. You're skiing along, miles from home, off in la-la land, enjoying the rhythm of the skis. You're so "into" the rhythm, the feelings in your body, that you really aren't "present" in the world.

Suddenly, you come back into "the world" (I hope you realize I keep putting things in quotes to remind you that "the world" is a personal construct, not a fixed reality - right? Whoops. Diversion. So, my friend opened her eyes, and was "lost and far from the car." That's her version of "the world." Now, imagine another skier passing her, who has skied this trail 20 times. As she stops at the same place as my friend, what "world" does this person see?)

Anyway, to continue my first thought, you pop back into "the world" and realize that you have not been paying attention, and you are "lost." The joy of the rhythm, the bodily sensation you were giving your sole attention to, has led to a scary place.

I'm not saying that my friend should not have felt her feelings - I'm saying that by only feeling her feelings, she skied off into the sunset. I am saying that skiing consciously, in a state of "presence," will likely be more helpful.

So, my friend woke up "lost." Her past experience (and therefore her predilection) was to give herself grief over going non-present. In that moment, her focus shifted from the good feelings in her body to her ego, whose only job is to be critical. Now, she's really "lost." Which is actually how people do get lost, out in the bush.

In this moment, panic, futility and fear sets in. "I'm dead, I'm toast, woe is me!" This is attachment. The statement many of my friends use to describe attachment to self-criticism is, "It's all about me!" (One of my friends is an exec for a company. One of her tasks is to take digital photographs at various locations, for promotional purposes. She wrote to me, indicating that she'd have to go back and re-do the pictures. She noted: "All the pictures I took in the restaurants last week have to be re-done as our digital camera was not co-operating. It would not focus on anything unless it was an extreme close-up. Hmmm... interesting if I relate that to me!")

The danger in this attachment is that you only see yourself, close up. You see and feel the panic, the lost feeling, and you freeze. Because you are choosing not to notice, at the same time, the bigger picture (and this is also what got you into this mess in the first place!) you are unable to move. All that's left is to sit down, tell yourself what a fool you are, make yourself depressed, and die in the snow.

Or, as my friend did, you could have those feelings of "lost and alone" for a moment, then give yourself a shake and have a look around.

Suddenly, you are back in the wider universe again, where life is moving along, the sun is shining, the snow is falling, and you see a path back home.

There is paradox upon paradox here.

Many moons ago, in Into the Centre I mentioned that our first Australian Shepherd was named, "Nishkamakarma." For brevity's sake, we called her Nishka. Nishkamakarma means "Do your duty (live your vocation) with faith in God, without attachment to the results of your action."

My skiing friend had several choices. She could have sat down and died. She could have skied on in a panic, exhausted herself and died. She could choose to ski desperately to her car (not, of course, knowing where her car was - most people live their lives like this - rushing around blindly, confusing activity with purposeful action.) Or, she could ski along, paying attention to the day, the trail, the terrain, with a goal of simply being in the moment while heading back to her car. (The goal, in other words, is to stay present while heading in a selected direction, without attaching to the outcome.)

I know. That last one seems so counter-intuitive. How will this work? It almost sounds like acting out of faith.

The alternative, attachment to a specific outcome is dangerous. As soon as you set your eyes on any one thing (or understanding, or self-definition) you lose the ability to respond to anything else that is happening around you. It's like my friend's digital camera - unable to adjust, it is condemned to a narrow focus - and will need either to be repaired or discarded.

Learning to let go of attachment is best achieved by remembering not to personalize what is going on around us - it is not happening "to" us. It simply "is."

Again, difficult. So, let's posit that I have an illness. If I go to "Why is this happening to me?" I divert my energy into my head, and spend hours, days, weeks trying to figure out "why?" Now, even if there was a "why," how is this exercise contributing to my getting well? On the other hand, I might say, "Hmm. Interesting. I am experiencing this illness. What resources must I muster to deal with this?" If I do this, I am much more likely to move past the illness. This latter approach is non-attached and in the moment.

In reality, nothing is happening to us. Life is going on, and we are stepping into it, moment by moment. Rain is. Rain doesn't "happen to us," even on our wedding day! We step in, we step out. Thus it is with everything in life.

When seemingly lost, open your eyes and see the beauty around you. Ski in a logical direction, gracefully and smoothly. Breathe. Watch life continue to unfold. Act, have faith, and detach. You will get home. One way or another.

The Phoenix Business Focus

"Detached Action"

From a business perspective, how does non-attachment play out? It would appear that there are two ways to live out your life. One is to do things for rewards or out of fear of punishment. The second approach is to act out of the burning desire to live your vocation.

Many people have been conditioned by their upbringing to seek praise and / or to fear retribution. This is sort of Parenting 101, if you think about it. We were all socialized in this way.

So, at work, if you are focused on pleasing your superiors and not rocking the boat, you are attached to receiving praise for a job well done. If, on the other hand, your style is to do your job out of fear of consequences, you are attached to not being punished.

You will begin to see that such an approach means you are choosing to leave your feelings and your self worth at the mercy of others. Now, the truth is, others are reacting to their own set of beliefs and understandings, and are playing out either praise or blame on the basis of their upbringing. If both of you are doing this, non-presence is the rule of the day. There is attachment to blame, guilt and rewards and punishments.

It is "easy" to step out of this loop. The way out is non-attached presence. Although an easy concept, it can be difficult to apply. Let's try it this way. Suppose I begin to think that my vocation is to produce excellent results, no matter what I am doing, because I am "acting for (or as) god." I therefore consider my actions to be "godly" - driven by a mindful desire to be of service.

Now, if this is my premise, I am simply concerned with doing the best that I can, compared with myself. I'm not trying to be better than others, nor am I choosing to live my life by comparison. I am focused on one thing - Nishkamakarma - "doing my duty (living my vocation) with faith in God, without attachment to the results of my action."

I am thus a vocationally driven enactor - living in the moment.

Why in the moment? Well, it is easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that, with enough planning, we can control our lives, our fate, and the destiny and direction of our business. In actuality, nothing is further from the truth. The mark of excellence is the ability to deal effectively and elegantly with the unexpected. Or, another way of putting this is: "Any moron can excel when nothing is going wrong. The wise soul is able to excel when the ship seems to be sinking."

Presence allows us to notice what is actually happening, and to deal with the unexpected. As we begin to act, we need to be willing to let go of looking for whom to blame, to let go of any attachment to "guilting" ourselves. Because to go there - to attach to blame, is to stop dead in your tracks. Sure, we have to figure out what went wrong, sure, we have to choose another way and see what happens when we apply that "other way." Praise and punishment simply get us nowhere.

If you are an employee and are being subjected to praise or blame, begin a month-long project. First, find a place to go have a breath. Second, remind yourself, "This is all about my boss' need to be in control - to pretend to be in control. While my boss may be into blame, I know this is not about me, personally. I may have to find another strategy or walk another way, but this is about staying present and acting, not personalizing and not hurting myself. I gain nothing by beating up on myself. I gain nothing by attaching myself to my boss' views of me. I am vocationally driven, and will return to producing excellence. I am an adult, not a child."

Easy? No. Essential? Yes. Make this shift, or decide, right now, to stay stuck in attachment, defining yourself as others see you. As always, your choice.

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