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Daily Lit: Just Let Go (Practice Detachment)

on January 2, 2012

Just Let Go (Practice Detachment)

Sometimes the simplest advice can be the hardest to take. Here’s how to practicedetachment without giving up on life.
By Sally Kempton
I’ll never forget the first time I seriously considered the relationship between detachment and freedom. I was in my 20s, staying with a friend in Vermont, trying to recover some equilibrium in the midst of a difficult breakup. One evening, bored with my moping, my friend tuned in the local alternative radio station, which happened to be broadcasting Ram Dass. He was telling a famous anecdote about the way you catch a monkey in India. You drop a handful of nuts into a jar with a small opening, he explained. The monkey puts his hand into the jar, grabs the nuts, and then finds that he can’t get his fist out through the opening. If the monkey would just let go of the nuts, he could escape. But he won’t.Attachment leads to suffering, Ram Dass concluded. It’s as simple as that: Detachment leads to freedom.I knew he was talking directly to me. Between my two-pack-a-day cigarette habit and my painful relationship, I was definitely attached—and definitely suffering. But letting go of my fistful of nuts seemed unthinkable. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without the drama of a love affair, without cigarettes and coffee—not to mention other, subtler addictions,like worry, resentment, and judgment. Still, the story of the monkey and the jar stayed with me, a depth charge waiting to go off.A year later, I had become a fledgling yogi. I no longer hung around with girlfriends who would listen to my latest troubles. Instead, my time was spent with people whose answer to any expression of discontentment was, “Let it go.” Pursuing simplicity, I had blithely flung away my career, my apartment, and my boyfriend. What I hadn’t managed to get rid of were the worry,the resentment, and the tendency to criticize. In short, I had simply moved from one behavioral pole to the other, and as a result, I was still suffering
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