Detachment is a strange concept. It’s hard to quantify, hard to explain, even to myself. I don’t need people or things in my life. I don’t care about the things that most people do. I don’t really need people to be happy. But that’s where it falls apart.
Stuff doesn’t matter. I cut ties with most of my valuables when I began to plan for the Peace Corps. I know I can’t travel with a lifetime of things around me. I still seem to collect things though, bits and pieces of art, or memorabilia from the places I have been. I value the memories they bring more than the objects, but it’s so easy to believe they don’t matter.
Nothing lasts. That’s the curse and blessing of life. When you have a bad day, it will pass. When you have a great day, this too will pass. It’s our nature to grab onto whatever makes us feel safe, but safety and security are never absolute. They are a trap more often than they are a choice. The most basic idea of human existence is that there is something beyond the moment that we are living in.
In the East, the world is a cycle, never beginning and never ending. We live, we die, we live again. Faith is tied to this inevitability, and religion is focused on escaping it. In the West, we have the stories of the eternal, that when we die after one short life we are blessed or condemned for eternity. Buddhism has a heaven and hell, but neither is as good as being human.
In heaven, bliss overtakes us and we don’t care to learn. In hell, it’s torment, but it has the same effect. To be human is a chance to escape the cycle, to become free of anger, delusion, and attachment. I have come far along the path in my lifetime, but I already know that if they are right, this probably won’t be my last ride.
I am less attached than a lot of people I meet. Good and bad don’t even come into play. It allows me to travel as I will, with unprecedented possibilities ahead of me. It also means that I am alone, if not lonely. I need social contact, but I get enough from teaching that I don’t need to seek out a large number of friends. But it also means that I don’t always connect to people like I want to, that possibilities of friendship don’t even occur to me until too late.
It’s not hard to make friends, but I would rather be alone than with the wrong people. Unfortunately, that mind set also makes it less likely that I would reach out and try to connect. Our habits often create our future. The choices we forgot that we are making, and the ones we never realized we made, are our blessing and our curse.
I have been practicing the basics in kung fu, learning the simplest of the animal forms. They are not even really forms at this point, no more than three or four movements before repetition. The thing is, they are harder than many of the more complicated forms I know. It’s something about my mind, that when it has less to focus on it still uses the same brain power. A complicated form is filled with mistakes I never see, but a basic form takes so little that I can see every flaw.
When practicing a long form, there is some part of me that knows it’s long, and I have to convince that demon that it is not. Sloth has always been my major weakness. The longer it goes, the more it falls apart, and the less I care. Pain distracts me, so I can only focus on one correction at a time. Once with speed. Once with flow. Once with perfect hands or perfect feet. It’s like trying to change how you walk, it takes years of effort to get your body to follow directions without a leash.
I think that’s why I always liked Buddhism, the simplicity that allows me to focus on a single movement. A single question or thought can take years to unravel. I can shift between what arises on a given day. Now, it’s anxiety. I don’t know how hard it will be to get into the Peace Corps, or how difficult it will be to jump through all the hoops.
I constantly have to watch my behavior to find how it affects me, and why I react the way I do. Patience fades, it becomes easier to yell than to fix a problem, and I find time slipping away from me. Small things, but adjusting a lifetime of bad habits is never easy. I’m thankful for my pain, and for my stress. It’s not easy, but it’s the best path I have found in my life so far.