Seeing Clearly: Attachments and the Thing in the Test Tube

August 23, 2010 By: Michael E. Crowley Category: Living with Intention, Mind Body Spirit, Yoga

“Attachment is a residue of pleasant experience.  Aversion is a residue of suffering.” – Patanjali, The Yoga-Sutra.

I have the broken off tip of a number 2 pencil in a test tube on my desk.  It’s 7.5 mm long and for the last 21 years it’s been buried under the skin of my left forearm.  I had it brought to the light of day on the 20th anniversary of the death of the person who put it there, my younger brother Patrick.

21 years ago, in 1989, I managed to make him mad enough to stab me with a handy writing implement and for all of the intervening time between his death on August 7th of 1990 until now, I’ve not been brave enough to have it taken out. I thought, though, that 20 was a significant number and it seemed to call for a correspondingly significant gesture in return.

Now that this thing is in a test tube, I can examine it carefully.  Scientifically and abstractly, even though it’s an artifact of a relationship that no longer exists in the manner that it used to.  I can tip the tube this way and that and watch the pencil tip go up and down like a child’s plaything.  Yet it was a part of me for so long.

I had become attached to the idea of being “one who grieves” since my brother died.  It was such an overwhelming event that I considered it a primary event that defined my status in the world.  An odd thought, given that attachments are supposed to come from pleasant experiences, not painful ones.

I won’t minimize any suffering here.  I can’t.  Pain is painful, and when bad things happen or good times end, it hurts.  I am going to limit myself to saying this: What I feel I’ve learned from yoga in regards to my situation is that I am not defined by either painful or pleasant experiences. I don’t “always suffer” any more than I “always rejoice”.  My true nature is more complex than the network of responses and reactions I’ve come to consider as my “self”, and that thought, as applied to my situation right now, helps make living without my brother more tolerable.  For the moment.

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