Sunday, January 25, 2009

for the curious

I did eventually finish that essay about co-dependency. There are some areas where I'd like to edit it a bit, but I am too lazy at present. It is what it is, and it is quite long so I won't feel bad if you don't read it:

Amy Nee

The word “attachment,” as used by Simone Weil, presents my mind with a series of metaphors. Attachment is a black hole that expects all the world to fall into the consumptive abyss of me. Or else, it is for me to find something or someone (oh special someone!) into whom I disappear completely, and become free of responsibility. Attachment is like a woman looking at her lover and thinking, “he is mine,” or even, “I am his.” In either case entering the illusion of a dissolution of boundaries, ceasing to see what is—two distinct beings able to think/feel/act independently—and fixating on a false image of her own creation. An amorphous mass that feels and thinks and believes what the perceiver feels and thinks and believes, all in alignment, all defiant to the idea that they are only reality because that is the label the perceiver has given. It’s what she believes, oblivious to the possibility that it may be a deviation from or distortion of what is true.

Attachment is a major player in the modern American conceptualization of romantic love. That may be over-generalizing; to be fair, attachment has played a major role in my conceptualization it of romantic love. It approaches surreptitiously in the guise of affection, loyalty, commitment—presumably acceptable attributes in a healthy relationship—it cranks up emotion and dulls intellect. I’ve found that I’ve a tendency, when fond of a person, to begin forming him into an idol; casting the multitude of concepts he put me in mind of into a single image, his. The clumsy representation tumbles over the person, hiding him from my view and overwhelming me in its bulky shadow so that I too am hidden. When the one to whom you are making yourself known has been transformed from a person, to a god that encapsulates what is both most desirable and most intimidating, is it any wonder that instead of bringing to the table self-revelation, I hide in other-imitation? In the presence of the divine, my manifest destiny becomes only to be pleasing; any other ambition or defining lines are dissolved in the ocean of attachment. There are those times too, when the part of god is designated to me, at which point the roles are reversed, and there is an expectation that the other ought to always be in agreement in order to be a worthy lover, or should I say worshiper?

Misconceptions of love are not the only illusions that attachment weaves. It can surface in many aspects of life coloring belief and behaviors in its chosen hues. I see it very much in association with the desire to possess, and the accompanying notion that to grab hold of something and own it makes that thing, or the one who has it, more complete. What that thing is can vary depending on the seekers fancy. For some it may take the form of information, for others money, or artistic ability, or another person. I have discovered this feeling of restless dissatisfaction in myself even when I’ve hiked to the ridge of a mountain, surveyed a beautiful view and thought, “if only I could capture this.” It was not enough to savor the sight of peaks robed in reaching trees and surrounded by yawning valleys, multitudes of colors blending and contrasting, I felt that I could only truly enjoy it if I could wrap my arms around it. It is the same feeling that swells up when I hear beautiful music and ache, not only because of its beauty, but because I cannot play it. It isn’t mine, so I am diminished, and the full-figured notes fall flat. A fine line exists between appreciation and attachment, the latter demanding that the object which enraptures be a package that can be put in my pocket. Thus the object of affection is severely diminished and the attempt at satisfaction brings only self-defeat.

Detachment, I think, is acknowledging you don’t have all the answers, and recognizing that things aren’t necessarily what they appear to be in your own eyes. At the same time, it involves the ability to accept your own ideas as worthwhile, even when not perfectly in alignment with another’s. Great difficulty can arise when trying to parse out what is mine and what is another’s. I believe that even within the realm of healthy detachment I can allow myself to be influenced by those I respect, without being passively submissive.
There were times (there still are) that if I found my own thoughts and feelings contradicted those that I perceived in a beloved authority, then—ashamed of and frustrated by my internal dissonance—I would dismiss what was mine and resolve to replace it with what was “right”. I was so attached to the beliefs of others. Detachment allows me to think for myself. When appropriate, I can choose to sacrifice what I would like for myself, replacing it with what another would like, so long as I recognize that I am doing it because I want to, not because I need to keep them close to me.

The shape I am today is the result of countless exchanges—extractions, additions, alterations—between myself and those around me. I am a compilation. The repertoire of music that composes the soundtrack of my life is always being edited; making room for a new melody that I heard from someone else, a clear note that resonated from the wilderness, and making changes to old tunes that are no longer in harmony.
It’s all very confusing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more intricately wound the web appears. If there is an “objective reality” possible to be ascertained—a me that is “most me,” a belief that is unadulterated, a truth that is intrinsically, unerringly true--it is not something that I can clearly see. It is a great mystery. Often I cannot even honestly say I recognize when I am viewing the fabricated illusions of attachment and when I am catching a glimpse of that presumably more accurate reality offered by detachment. For now I try to remain ever mindful of the words of Epictetus,

“People and things are not what we want them to be
nor what they seem to be.
They are what they are.”

I only hope that St. Paul’s implication was accurate when he said that as I put childish things behind me, what is now seen dimly will one day be clear. Perhaps that day will be when I learn more truly what it means to love.

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