Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I returned to California to see my family. I found myself driving behind my daughter's car, which held both of my children. At a stoplight I began to panic a little. What if someone hit their car? In my mind I began to weave a protective bubble around them, willing all other cars to get out of their way, avoid them or simply leave them alone. As the light turned green I chuckled to myself, realizing I had fallen into that trap of gripping attachment the philosophers warn against.
In the yoga teaching we learn about he Three Gunas, and that we humans all respond to stimulus in one of three ways: rejection, attachment or equanimity. Part of this is evolutionary, because we learned to recoil from trauma - don't eat those red berries, they are poisonous, for example - and that lesson continues through our progeny. There are some disagreements about whether or not these traumas remain in our DNA or if our DNA changes due to environmental conditions, but the point is that they do carry on if we're not careful.
We are also hard wired to continue to reach for pleasant things, which is a big ingredient in addictive illness. This is the unhealthy attachment that I was experiencing. It's what I feel when I reach for my phone and look to see how many clicks my latest blog post has received. It's why we buy too much, each too much, drink too much: if one is good than twelve must be better, right?
The key, the yoga philosophers teach us, is to find the healthy dance between rejection and attachment. When we recoil, notice that we're recoiling. When we reach for more, notice we're attaching. Underlying it all is some level of discomfort that we're not able to identify or process. I don't want anything bad to happen to my kids, because I never want anything bad to happen to me. Which is why I found myself sitting at that light and sympathizing with the Lord of the Rings character Gollum, who muttered "my precious" as a outward sign of his unhealthy attachment to the One Ring.
Luckily, I snapped out of it and by the time we reached our destination, I was back to dancing between attachment and rejection in a more balanced way.
What are you attached to?
What do you recoil from?
Can you dance between these with awareness?
Good luck, my precioussssss.