I’m sitting in the JFK airport with a 5 hour layover, waiting for a flight to Madrid. You wouldn’t find me complaining if you sat down next to me. I have been waiting expectantly for this opportunity for almost a year. I plan to meet my middle son there and trek across northern Spain for over two weeks. I feel so darn lucky to have made it to this spot.
The wait has given me time to contemplate my expectations for this very anticipated journey. I am tickled to see my son again after 8 months. I am giggly about getting to be outdoors non-stop, and yet I know that my excitement is full of attachment to specific outcomes.
We can plan, we can anticipate, but when the time comes for a big event — be it a trip, a board meeting or a company merger — being open to the outcome is the prescribed cross-cultural tenet. From Hinduism comes the advice to be focused on what you are doing, not the fruits you are trying to derive. Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology and researcher on detachment proposes that, “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.”
Example of the day — I somehow got upgraded to first class on the way here. Talk about attachment to the outcome!! I visualized great food, comfy chair and lots of space to spread out. I did get all those, but also I received the interesting surprise that the flight attendant radiated a not very pleasant odor. I think it was moldy shoes…or it reminded me of the smell that came when a gaggle of teenaged soccer players would remove their cleats in the mini van during days gone by. Regardless, it helped to breathe in and out of my mouth whenever the server would drop by.
The practice of detachment calls us to be open to whatever comes and watch for the mysterious unfolding of life just as it is, not how we might have visualized it. This is the differentiator between joy and suffering in my life. I like to remember Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s advice when life is coming at us unexpectedly. When what arrives is fun and interesting (that upgrade) she recommends we repeat to ourselves, “Pleasant.” And if it is uncomfortable or bothersome (overwhelming smell), we can say instead, “Unpleasant.” With this approach we remember to stay with the game and not miss the next act as we cling to the good or recoil from the bad.
And they don’t call it a “practice” for nothing…it’s something I continue to work on and forget more than I’d like! Yet, when I do remember, or are reminded by wise souls who stay calm and happy regardless of what pleasant or unpleasant surprises arrive at their door, detachment is like a reset button.
As we started our descent, the flight attendant went from seat to seat kindly thanking each customer for the opportunity to serve. When he came to my seatmate and me, both female, he took our hands and kissed them. “Very dear” I thought and wondered what other surprises await.