In my early twenties I traveled to Nepal, studied Buddhism and had some other adventures. While I was there, my understanding of what it meant to be attached started to change. I started to understand that attachment to a person or a situation is seeing what we would like to see regardless of what is really there. In fact, when we attach to an idea or a person, we have decided to hinge our happiness on expectations about who that person is, or what the result of a situation will be. Non-attachment to an outcome means that you can be ok with any situation. If you accept things as they are, you are never disappointed.
Several years after returning from Nepal, I got married and had children, non-attachment seemed impossible. I was completely attached, I was in fact anchored in a sea of expectation, optimism and hope. If you had asked me 5 years ago what I wanted for my children’s lives I would have said, “I want them to be happy” and I would have meant it. But on some level happiness would have included a mid to large size house, an attractive partner, …pets….This is what happiness was for me, it is hard not to make our children in our own image, or footprint.
And then everything changed, it is easy to practice non-attachment when nothing goes wrong. It is easy to practice non-attachment when your children are born beautiful and healthy. It is easy to let things roll off when nothing really goes wrong.
But then my third child and only girl was diagnosed with Autism. She is 6 years old, and we hope some day she will speak. She has had terrible problems with her ears and her stomach, she lives in a world where people spend their days talking, while she listens but can’t respond. And yet every morning, she wakes up smiling, flying down the stairs and bossing us all around just with the strength of her will and her smile.
Every day the gap between her and her peers grows, and the world is less and less understanding of how different she is. Sometimes, I imagine all the things I would trade to the universe just to have a conversation with my daughter. But the truth is that as the mother of a special needs child you learn what real non-attachment is, it is not about shoes, or furniture, it is not about outcomes. It is about being grateful for each day, even if that day is spent in a doctors offices sweating as you hold your terrified, confused, and screaming child.
To me non-attachment is about knowing that some days bad days come in 3’s, 4’s, or even weeks, but so do good days. Neither last forever, and they are always lurking around the corner from each other. Now, non-attachment means to me that I love my daughter whether or not I ever hear her voice, I have to be at ease with the fact that she has different dreams than I do, I have learned that her joy is her own and we are lucky to share it.
By the same token we travel all over the country and exhaust ourselves with doctors and therapists hoping to create a bridge from our world to hers. If we are successful that would be wonderful, if we are not, she is still our girl, beautiful, wise, and wonderful and we will love her as she is.
As for those mid to large size houses, spouses and pets that I had imagined for my children, I really truly don’t care anymore. Their lives are their own, to be their mother I have to see and accept them for who they are. I have to know that tomorrow they will inevitably be different, and that I will only create endless suffering for them and for myself if I insist on attaching my expectation to the shape of their happiness.
I remind myself everyday that I do not own tomorrow, there is no amount of planning, or management that will protect my loved ones from broken hearts or disappointments. My job as a mother and a wife is to love them here, where we are today, to look at them as they are right now and know that no one has ever been luckier or happier, and in that I am freed from the burdens of attachment and expectation that wear down our spirits and cloud our vision.