Jedi believe in ‘letting go’ of their attachments.
Jedi work on ‘letting go’ of their attachments and train themselves on this. The fear of loss of one’s attachments leads to the dark side, so a ‘letting go’ and ‘trusting in the will of the Force’ attitude needs to be developed gradually to overcome this fear of loss. Everything really belongs to the Force anyhow, so we need to trust the Force, and not be so attached to people and possessions.
“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is” – Yoda
“Train yourself to let go of every thing you fear to lose” – Yoda
10’000 Joys and Sorrows
Buddhists believe that the fundamental cause of suffering is attachment. The premise is not solely with one religion. All of the mainstream faiths warn followers of becoming overly attached to our earthly possessions, title, bodies, relationships and beliefs. With attachment comes the fear of losing what one is attached to. Since infancy we are constantly experiencing the anxiety of anticipated loss. A child will cry when her mother leaves the room through separation anxiety. The loss of a favorite toy is a constant preoccupation of many children. They will clutch on to their prized possessions and weep inconsolably if it is lost.
As we grow we become attached to our body image and fear any harm that comes to it. Our reputation and standing among peers becomes inflated in our minds. Acceptance within the group becomes paramount. We become adults and start to attach to our identity, our beliefs and convictions. Our Ego starts to expand and we find someone whom we believe might “complete” us. Attachments form for a significant other and a partnership may be formed. We become attached to our profession, our career and the many possessions that we accumulate along the way.
As we age our ego has completely transcended who we truly are. Our children become an extension of ourselves and we see our being as intrinsically linked to our social status, standing with peers, qualifications, bank balance, lifestyle and our appearance and health. Entering into middle age we start to mellow out a little but we are set in our ways, our convictions and beliefs as well as our opinion of ourselves and others. Some of us may start to ask the important questions at various stages of our lives and even seek non-attachment.
For the most part we are caught in the paradigm and “letting go” of attachment and especially of our life is something we can barely begin to consider. We forget that all of the things that we value; all that we are attached are impermanent by nature. Any or all of them can be removed at any time. Nothing lasts forever and all things must change and eventually end. Everything ultimately returns to the Force.
“There is one thing and only one thing that causes unhappiness. The name of that thing is attachment” – Anthony de Mello
In his book “Man’s search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl recounts a story. During the Nazi occupation of his home city Vienna an important Academic was arrested by the Gestapo for the crime of being an intellectual and a Jew. While awaiting interrogation and eventual deportation to a concentration camp the academic protested his arrest. “I’ll have you know I am an important man in Vienna”, he proclaimed and rattled off memberships to various distinguished bodies, awards and medals of honor and qualifications. The Academic removed from a satchel a pile of papers stating his various standings and showed them to the police officer.
A German Officer standing nearby took up the papers and tore them to pieces, “There, you are nothing now!” he yelled tearing at the sheets and throwing them on the floor “You are nothing but a Jew!” The Academic was shocked. Months later deprived of his standing, his home and his family and wearing nothing but a filthy prison uniform bearing a number and stripped of his dignity the Academic died a broken man. He had lost his identity and unable to see any hope for the future, he withered and died.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
Frankl was also an Academic and a Jew. As a Psychologist he understood the power of the Ego and its ability to build up an image and drag us down with it when it is dismantled. In Auschwitz, Frankl survived in the face of atrocious odds. Frankl refused to let the Nazis take the one thing he had control over, his mind. He understood that everything he had before was probably gone. His house was probably destroyed, his position gone for ever and his wife and family probably dead. The thought of it would torture anyone but Frankl accepted it for what it was and “let go” of his mental attachment to the things he had no control over.
From one moment to the next, one day after the other, Frankl continued to breathe and live. He never lost Hope that the war would end and he would be allowed to return home and whatever was left. One Day in late 1943 the Soviet Army appeared and the Nazis fled. Frankl had survived.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us” – Joseph Campbell
James Stockdale spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison cell after his Navy bomber was shot down during a raid in 1965. Stockdale was a student of the Stoics and kept a copy of Epictetus with him during his time as a POW. The Stoic example of accepting one’s present condition beyond what one is capable of controlling carried Stockdale through his ordeal.
The attachments he had for freedom, his family and career were put aside as he focused on keeping what he did have, his mind and the choice to give up or continue. More importantly despite seven years of life lost, Stockdale carried no bitterness and no regrets seeing it as a pivotal experience:
“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade” – James Stockdale
The Stoics were themselves beyond attachment. Like the Buddhist precept of non-attachment the Stoics accepted what came their way with equanimity. Seneca was extremely wealthy but accepted the loss of his wealth and an order from Nero to kill himself with equanimity, even ironic humor.
Cato the younger was one of the most influential men in Rome and yet wandered the streets in simple clothing and bare feet. Removed from an important military rank during the civil war, he shrugged off the snub and rallied his soldiers around him and did his duty for the Republic.
Epictetus was banished to a desolate Greek Island by the Emperor. Instead of dwelling on his loss he started a small Stoic school. His student and later the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, fought the Germanic tribes while his wife plotted with a trusted friend, Cassius, to bring his reign to an end. The plot was uncovered by loyalists and Cassius was killed and his wife arrested. Instead of flying in to a blind rage Aurelius forgave his wife and wept at the news of Cassius’s death.
“Receive without pride, let go without attachment” – Marcus Aurelius
Grasping attachment and the fear of losing what was most dear to him ultimately led Anakin to the Dark Side. Not happy to simply accept things as they were, Anakin wanted to control the Force to his will and claim ultimate power, the power over life and death. In his fear Anakin lost everything that was dear to him and became a tortured servant of the Dark Lord.
“You only lose what you cling to” – Buddha
The Fictional Jedi were expected to follow the precept of non-attachment. For this reason they were not allowed to marry or have children or carry on as normal Galactic citizens might. Their commitment was similar to being in a Monastic Order or perhaps even the Army of some countries. Personal possessions were eschewed as were other attachments that the rest of us take for granted.
Obviously most of us are not going to give all of our possessions away but the clothes on our back and start to live such a life. Being sober also means being sane and rational. I for one like the things that I own. I’m not prepared to just hand them over and become a Monk, walking away from family and job. We can still loosen our attachments however.
There is no need to grasp so tightly on the things that we prize. Life need not be a monkey trap where a monkey is held fast only by its refusal to let go of a bait. The monkey can slip its hands inside the trap and clutch on to a treat but unless it lets go of the prize it cannot withdraw its hand. The monkey is trapped only by its refusal to let go. That is the nature of grasping attachment.
“The root of attachment is suffering” – Buddha
A Zen Master once received an exquisite and precious porcelain cup. The item was so precious that he decided to consider it broken and worthless straight away. As a result the Master was able to keep the cup without attachment so that when one day when it did break he shrugged “of course”. No big deal.
The Stoics had a practice called “Negative visualization” which captures the Zen practice. Negative visualization recommends that we spend time thinking about loss every day. We consider losing our jobs and having the bank foreclose on the mortgage and losing all our property. Imagine your spouse leaving you or someone close dying. The Stoics suggested that parents should consider that they may never hold their children again after they have tucked them in to bed at night. As morbid as it sounds, contemplating catastrophe is an intellectual exercise and is psychologically safe as long as we do not attach emotion to our visualization. The act is not pessimism which reflects a negative outlook. If it were we would be called pessimistic for buying life or health insurance.
With daily practice we can use negative visualization to appreciate what we do have while “letting go” at little of the attachment that we tie to them. As Epictetus said we should avoid holding on to something so tight that it removes our ability to act with reason and destroys us when we lose them. The practice hardens us for the inevitability of loss.
“In short, you must remember this – that if you hold anything dear outside of your own reasoned choice, you will have destroyed the capacity for choice” – Epictetus
The Reserve Clause
The Stoics also used the “Reserve Clause” which is simply another way of framing a situation. We can always add a caveat to any statement that allows for it to not proceed to our expectations. For example we may work extremely hard in preparation for an exam or train fanatically for a sporting event. We can either attach to the effort that we put in and put our focus there or we can become fixated on an outcome which is not entirely within our control.
Despite the hours of study, we may end up getting a paper that covers areas we overlooked. On the day of our event we make some simple mistakes and loose the competition. Attaching to the goal would leave us bitterly disappointed. Having a reverse clause which says “I’ve worked really hard for this and I’ll do my best but leave the rest to fate” is one way we can loosen our attachment to outcomes.
Live Life with an Open Hand
Life can be lived from one day to the next mindfully or we can spend it in anxiety ridden anticipation of loss and catastrophe. We can spend our days clutching on to our money, possessions and life or we can loosen the bonds that tie us to this world a little. Do we hold a Dove in hand so tight that we squeeze the life out of it or do we hold it gently and loosely and willingly let it go when the time comes?
“Let Go, Let God” – Anonymous