I have been enjoying a day of silence and solitude today, which has not been as silent as I had hoped, but without the distractions of music, or movies, or too much talk, I have succeeded in being able to listen and hear what I have been needing to hear. I have needed clarity on the topics of love, attachment, detachment, and letting go. These thoughts began as a tangled ball of hurt feelings and slowly I have been untangling the ball. As the knots loosened, I saw that the feelings had to be sorted into different piles, and each pile needed to be named and understood before I could make any true progress towards my goal, which was letting go and forgiving and loving fully.
When we think of love, most of us would be quick to agree that in order to love someone there has to be an attachment to that person. I am very attached to my children, and I love them deeply. Siblings, friends, spouses–those people closest to us–we generally feel that in order to love them fully we need to have an attachment to them. I certainly thought that, and yet I have been forced to realize that the notion of attachment and love may be leaving something very important and valuable out of the mix. This became especially clear to me as I struggled to come to terms with the Biblical command to love everyone. Most religions and spiritual disciplines teach something similar. We are all in this together, and love is the goal we strive to reach.
Love and attachment do coexist in many good and healthy relationships, such as the parent-child relationship, ideally anyway. The same is true with friends, spouses, siblings, and parents. There has to be balance in the attachment. If we become overly attached in unhealthy ways we might become clingy, or domineering, or unable to see and appreciate the person separate from ourselves. There are those darned boundaries again that tell us where we end and another person begins. Boundaries are unique within each close relationship, and they shift over time. If the relationship is a healthy one, this adjusting of boundaries happens fairly easily, as we parents adjust and step back as our children grow older.
We learn to let go and trust and have faith that we have taught our children well enough that they will flourish as adults. The attachment to the child remains secure, but a certain detachment must come into play if we are going to be able to love them for who they are, and allow them to grow into who they are meant to become. It is not an uncaring detachment at all, and it is not easy at the start, but it is necessary to maintain healthy boundaries and love in the relationship. It is respect at the very core of it. Certainly, this form of healthy attachment-detachment adjusting is far easier with those we are close to, or maybe not…
What happens when someone you love hurts you? What happens when a marriage fails, and the divorce is nasty, and love is replaced with more undesirable emotions like anger, resentment, and even hatred. The base of all of these emotions is hurt. How do you love a perfect stranger who has repeatedly attacked you, or someone that you love deeply but who does not show you the same respect that you show them without some overlay of hurt or bitterness to muck up each attempt at forgiveness? How do I love someone who has wounded me in ways I never dreamed imaginable? How do I love these people fully, like the Bible tells me to, and do it with purity and compassion. Here is where the tangled ball unravels, and the three separate piles become more clear. Detachment is the key to loving someone who has betrayed you, abused you, or hurt you in any form. Detachment is not an easy place to get to, though.
When I was at the height of my cyber-bullying experience I read a lot of articles on the topic so that I could better understand it, and in order to write an article myself. One of the best things that I read told me that, while documenting everything, to take a giant step back and to become an observer of the person harassing me. To be an effective observer, I had to detach from my own hurt. Once I was able to do that, I saw that the woman harassing me treated everyone the same. She lashed out easily at anyone who had the slightest disagreement with her point of view. She often perceived that certain comments were “calling me stupid,” when nothing even close was said. She had a hair-trigger when it came to feeling slighted, and becoming angry and aggressive. In short, I learned that her behavior towards me truly was nothing personal. It was just how she viewed and attacked the world. This information was liberating is a rather smug, “Well, she is just a miserable person…” sort of way. I stopped observing and documenting, but I had not reached compassion, love, and forgiveness yet.
To get to that place, I had to detach even further. I had to step so far back that I was in her shoes. I had to look at what her life must be like, and feel like. I had to look at who she was in a relationship with, and what she was going through with her children, and grandchild. When I looked at her life from inside her shoes my heart hurt. I am a mother, and I know what it feels like when there are serious issues with a child. It is scary and it hurts like hell and you blame yourself in some way or another. I had to look at the grandchild and his behavior that so troubles my son—such anger and aggressiveness at a very young age. Grandma has to cope with that, and that sort of behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I felt sad for her in a profound way and I finally reached a place of compassion for her, and the entire household. With compassion comes the ability to love–the kind of love that the Bible teaches. It does not mean I want to play in the same sandbox with her, but I no longer harbor any ill will towards her. I love her for the hurting person that she is and that feels a lot better than anger and lack of forgiveness.
Unfortunately, I have had to use the same process recently with someone infinitely closer to me–someone who I love dearly and always will. I had to step back and observe a lifetime of behavior on both of our parts. I had to step back even further to get into her shoes, and feel the anger she feels, and the fear, and the sadness. I know why she hurts, whether intentional, or not, and I know that her pain is deeper than the wounds she inflicts on me. I have great compassion for her, and I have forgiven her. At the same time, I have compassion for myself in a new way, and suddenly a fourth pile comes out of the mix, and into that pile goes expectations.
I would, and have, moved mountains out of love for this person. Because I would, and have done that, I expected the same from her. Not everyone loves like I do. Not everyone is willing to move mountains, or feels that they even can. I had to release my expectations–detach from them–in order to let go of the hurt and love her fully. She can only love as well as she is doing, like my mother could only love as well as she did. I cannot expect more. I can expect respect, and if that is absent, I will let go with love.
Throughout this process of detaching, and observing, and stepping into another person’s shoes, I was certain that what I was doing was detaching from each individual. To be sure, there is some truth to that. However, today I realized that what I had really had to do in order to get to the place of love, compassion, forgiveness, and letting go was to detach myself from my own ego and pride. I had to tie each piece from each one of the four piles together, roll the ball up neatly, and name it what it truly was–pride and ego. If I had not detached myself from my own hurt ego, I never would have been able to step into their shoes, find compassion for them, and finally love and forgive them for who they are.
My pride and my mouth have been two of my biggest defense mechanisms when hurt. I have been chipping away at both bit by bit, but these experiences have taken me forward with a huge leap. I can step away from my ego and my pride and I can love and forgive as God wants me to do. I have not given up myself in the process. Quite the opposite, like the Grinch, I feel as if my heart has grown three sizes today. It is a wonderful, peaceful, gentle feeling. The silence has truly been golden. The sun will be setting soon, and I will be lighting my candles. I am full of homemade bread and soup. I have nothing to defend tonight. I am free to love fully from whatever distance I choose. I thank God for that freedom.