As my children move farther & farther away — not simply in miles, but into that mysterious realm of adulthood that never seem (at least to parents) stable — I wrestle with letting go. It’s the ultimate Buddhist exercise: how to love without attachment.
It’s hard sometimes for non-Buddhists to understand non-attachment, or Upādāna. I’ve had people ask me, Does that mean you don’t love your kids? You don’t get attached to folks? And no, it doesn’t mean that at all. Who looks more loving (and loveable) than the Dalai Lama?
The difference between love and attachment is clinging/ grasping/ holding on. Think: clenched fists. That’s not love, really. When I refuse to believe my two wonderfully capable sons are adults, I’m clinging to their childhood. If I worry that my younger son will fall prey to the hurricane due to arrive in the Philippines as he lands? I’m grasping at fear for a child who has long since grown into a lovely, absolutely competent, man.
Which does NOT mean I don’t (too often!) lapse in to just that: clinging and grasping… Instead of observing with love, through no lens of attachment. It’s just sooo hard! In my family, to love is to worry. I remember my mother, terrified when there were riots in Syria, several countries away from Saudi Arabia, where I was living. So I understand that love entails worry. But I also know that the truth of it is, to worry is a form of upādāna. Clinging to the future you want, not what may come. What a spiritual teacher once called ‘building crap castles’ — a spot-on description of the painstaking way we darken our possible futures with worry.
All I know is that meditation — breathing, sitting w/ my own often unloveable self — helps. If I can sit, just being still, somehow the fist begins to unclench, resolve itself into a hand. And with enough time, the hand opens, and stretches out. In the love that has so very little to do with attachment. In the love that watches, without judgement. Without fear.