Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached.” ― Simone Weil

She has to work on Christmas Day. No one should have to work on such a special day. All of her life, her family, her community, and pretty much society have taught her that nothing should be going on Dec. 25 except opening presents as a kid and not having to work as a teenager, and, of course, celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.

Being told she must work on Christmas Day was simply unacceptable and unfair, in her opinion. But was it really unacceptable or unfair? If the accounts in the Bible are correct, the baby Jesus would have been born in the fall, not on Dec. 25.

Is it possible that her attachment, as well as ours, has served to fabricate an illusion? Following Weil’s words, the answer is yes. If she, and we, can detach from the absolute of celebrating (Christmas, Birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc.) on a specific date, the reality can be obtained that meaningful celebrations can still take place when we can be off work or with our friends or family.

If letting go of those attachments could bring peace, joy, and a better grasp of reality, we might be well served to look around and see what other illusions we’ve allowed to be fabricated in our lives.

In over 30 years of marriage, I’ve learned a lot about attachment from watching my husband. I have witnessed his several levels of attachment to basketball teams — actually, just a couple of teams. In our early years, he was more attached to his teams, and I’ll have to say it was uncomfortable for both of us.

His first step in detachment came when a friend of his decided I wasn’t likeable because I didn’t cheer for the right team. My husband had already decided I was very likeable (whew), so the friend’s judgment became a measuring stick for many years. Were we so attached to _____ that we would choose to not be friends with someone because of it?

His friend’s attachment to a team was absolutely “the great fabricator of illusions” since I really was a pretty nice person, and we began looking for reality, whether we realized it at the time or not.

Do you have some unhealthy attachments in your life? If you’re thinking you don’t, good for you, but maybe you’ll humor me as we consider a few places we find ourselves attached:

  • · routines
  • · people
  • · keepsakes
  • · lifestyle/accomplishments/job
  • · religious beliefs
  • · events
  • · possessions
  • · politics

I’ve had unhealthy attachments to everything on that list: a routine that seemed like the only way my day could go well; people whose presence and/or happiness affected my quality of life; family heirlooms that I was sure meant my life would be more meaningful; keeping up appearances through community activities and achievements that made me believe my life was better than it would be otherwise (and that people would like me); religious beliefs that somehow elevated me in the book of life; birthday and Mother’s Day celebrations that meant I was loved; and too many purchases of decorations in my home that left me feeling not as small after being in friends’ homes.

Was my attachment in those areas really merely fabricating illusions? Probably so. While I’ve managed to detach from most of that thinking, I know how easily I can slide back into the world of unhealthy attachments — like believing that working on Christmas Day will ruin the day and lessen the meaning of the event. Pick your battles might be great advice in choosing between keeping a job and changing the day you see family and friends.

Have you managed to spot an attachment issue you might have? Do you see the value in making a change? Maybe you aren’t willing to change your attachment to your belief that people should care about others, but are you so attached to your definition of caring that you would choose not to be friends with a person because they don’t define it the same way?

Being too attached to our things can mean we harshly punish someone who breaks one of them, which goes along with our attachment to our expectations of relationships, jobs, and life. As the holiday season is here, people of different faiths and those who just love the idea of Santa, gifts and food, have what might be fairly unhealthy attachments. When the gift-givers don’t deliver what has become expected, it can lead to resentment. What if you could change that for the holidays and maybe forever?

A healthy attachment to the holidays might look like this: you enjoy the holiday (or other event) and are happy to celebrate it when your family or friends are available or on your own. You don’t measure your own value based on gifts given or received.

An unhealthy attachment to the holidays is quite the opposite. When you demand that your family respond in a particular way and at a particular time, when you feel that your lack of gifts to or from others is a reflection on your value as a person, you might want to re-evaluate your thinking.

When we are raising our children, we want to help them develop a secure attachment to us, and that will hopefully be reflected in their healthy attachments to other people as they go through life. Once we are adults, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s a great time to look at your attachment type (there are four, and I recommend searching the internet to read more about them).

The bottom line of giving yourself, and those around you, the gift of detachment is that you will become happier with what and who is in your life and less dependent on a particular job, car or friend to consider yourself happy or successful.

We might think we know what is best for us, but it is often when we let go of our fabricated illusions that we receive the gift of something much better.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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