Over the last three months, several people I know have left their organisations unexpectedly with a big fall-out to follow. The reasons? Death, disrepute, scapegoating… The consequences? For those left behind, sadness, grief, discomfort, anxiety, an absence of closure, and perhaps, for some, a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Also a sudden lessening of ambition.
Whatever happened to people quietly deciding to leave their jobs and move on? Whatever happened to leaving do’s? Now I find myself in pre-scheduled work groups, the dates falling unfortunately close on the heels of these sudden departures, with not surprisingly glum, anxious, perplexed people attending, no one feeling very comfortable about acknowledging or in some cases even naming their loss. I find myself in a different role. The venues are fitting – one, for example, is called a palace and looks like a prison, with weeds growing all around the neglected building and bars on the windows.
Life has a way of offering balance though, so in parallel with this, I also have recently found myself working with a small group of people who are planning their work and career transitions well, and whose behaviour reflects appropriate respect and care for themselves and others. When I visit them, I almost have to pinch myself. Am I dreaming? Are there still places and people like this? Even the receptionist is beaming and welcoming! And it’s not a profession I would normally associate with all these qualities.
With a great deal of drama happening outside and around me, I observe myself not feeling attached, which doesn’t mean I don’t empathise or feel the bafflement and raw pain of others at times.
So when two people recently talked to me on separate occasions, both animatedly, about their new sheds, I was myself a little baffled at first. The first person put up photos on Facebook of her plain-faced shed from various angles, adorned with celebratory bunting, entitled ‘Shed love’. What was this all about?! When we met she explained how this new shed had transformed her life. She now has a space that is hers, ‘a room of one’s own’, and it feels special and gives her another place to be, to reflect, outside the sometimes crowded house.
A few weeks later, another person mentioned he had recently built a shed and that this was a key happening in his life. Sheds again?! His story was incredibly powerful, he talked about planning, managing and building the shed himself, the pleasure of creating something tangible that was there to see and could be used, with a purpose – a process with a beginning and an end which in this time of limbo and uncertainty is even more reassuring. In the course of building this shed for his father to use for his metal-working, he had created a space for himself to work in, to be home and yet not home. And in building the shed himself, he also reconnected with his grandfather who had been a carpenter. Home, work and family generations all come together in and through the shed. The shed is symbolic of an integrated life, it’s a vehicle for feeling grounded and connected. It is a ‘little bit of space’ and shows that he is ‘in a good space’
I now feel much better-inclined towards sheds. If a shack with a roof can bring such a sense of well-being to people, then it should be celebrated!
My version of a shed is a small summerhouse in the garden which was already here (maybe a summerhouse is just an inflated name for a shed!). It’s a good space to read and reflect, to have a conversation when the weather outside isn’t quite up to it, and it gives absolutely the most wonderful view for yoga practice, especially when lying down, with its wonderful leafy canopy.
I guess that you could say these two people who built their own sheds are attached to their constructions. They look upon them with pleasure, fondness, anticipation and expectation. Their sheds are a refuge from the bad stuff happpening around, and they are symbolic of space and freedom. Is such an attachment to a material object, a tangible place which opens up the possibilities for space and freedom, a bad thing.
The other day when I was waiting for someone, I made a list of everything that gives me pleasure. (My ‘shed’ wasn’t on it as this was before my ‘shed epiphany’.) I just wrote things down, until I dried up:
– Sun on the hills or fields
– Being by the ocean
– What lifts my heart
– A friendly exchange
– A stimulating thought
– A question I can’t answer
– Someone speaking from their heart
– Music that is heartfelt
– Something unaffected
– Something unexpected – synchronicity
This all came quite quickly and effortlessly. Then I wondered, am I attached to what gives me pleasure? If attachment is the expectation of pleasure, it may be that when I anticipate some of these things and simultaneously remember the pleasure they may offer and have offered in the past, I am attached to them. It is the memories I have of how they make me feel that creates the attachment. And I am not often disappointed in the reinforcement each present impression makes, which makes the anticipation of pleasure and the attachment even stronger.
Why do we have attachments and what are we avoiding in holding on to them, and sometimes so fiercely? If you look at the nature of your attachments and go beneath their surface, you may discover what insights they offer. What are you seeking to heal or reconcile through the attachment, and what are you seeking to avoid? Exploring the attachment to views of oneself can be particularly fruitful I find.
There is a certain art to expecting the unexpected. I know it will happen (like the magic of the well), I just don’t know when, although once you’re open to it, it’s actually quite often. So I’m not surprised by it, I just observe it when it happens and let it unfold. I think I have a healthy relationship with it – but am I kidding myself? Is being attached to the unexpected really being a bit of a thrill-seeker, caught up in a pattern of response? Why do I need to feel this connection through unpredictability, that makes me feel so alive?
Everytime I think I shed an attachment, I discover another layer. Maybe that’s just being human. Yet having the attachment may be self-reaffirming when the pleasure is reinforced, but it also leaves you vulnerable to feeling undermined and even lost at sea when the pleasure is not confirmed or even withheld. Even sheds get woodworm. The only other immediate option is pain – until you learn how to be healthily attached, how to be able to let go but still be there.
I find myself talking to people whose attachment to enjoyment/pleasure/security….has reversed. The rug has been pulled out from under their feet so to speak, and they have moved from pleasure to pain. Each state is equally one of bondage, only when we’re in the pleasure bit of the cycle we don’t see it that way. It’s delightful. We just want it to continue indefinitely – maybe forever. The cycle of pleasure and pain is a kind of human bondage, the two are inextricably linked; and every time we step out of a cycle, another revolution reinstates itself.
Is this because we are bred into a reward/punishment mentality? I was recently reminded of Stephen Covey’s thinking about effective interactions and how there are, broadly speaking, two types of groups, the earliest type of group experience of course being the family. Most of us grow up conditioned to be in a reward/punishment framework, eg ‘if you eat your dinner, then you can watch television’, ‘if you don’t finish your homework, you can’t go out this weekend’ etc. Many of us never get out of this type of interaction and so we go on to live life as adults really still in the Parent/Child mode.
Why are we so attached to the Parent-Child mode when it is inherently constraining of ourselves and our relationships? It is yet another iteration of the pleasure-pain cycle, a form of bondage. It leads to adversity and non-productive drama. We see this in everyday relationships, in domestic life, in organisations, and in and between nations. Is it because it’s familiar, it’s easier? It’s about blame rather than responsibility – echoes of that phrase the ‘feral underclass’. And why is it such a struggle to move out of it? Just because it’s familiar?
There is a different place to be where the interaction is not about punishment or reward but more about a genuine exchange of views and feelings, with well-being, honesty, empathy, equality and other such values at its heart. This could be an item on my list of what gives me pleasure. Yet is this vision of human interactions just another (unrealised) attachment? Is wanting any outcome attachment?
Is all attachment negative? I was interested to read this description of positive attachment which is differentiated from the emotional bondage of negative attachment: ‘Be positively attached. Live that inspiration which you have imbibed and do not look for a physical connection. Closeness does not mean anything. It is what you can give and not what you can receive that is important.’ ‘…we all have some ability, and it is the positive expression of that ability which takes us high up in life. We have also received inspiration in our own ways, according to our mentality and receptivity, and it is time that we used that inspiration and ability.’ (www.yogamag.net/archives/1997/djuly97/posatgu.shtml)
Positive attachment is not about being attached to something outside of yourself, it is contributing your own power and ability to the world and making a difference. You cannot empower without having power yourself. So it is not solipsistic and self-engrossed, it is self-centered (in a non-egoistic way) so that you can be in and of the world – like a tree whose roots give them the stability and certainty to branch out.
Going back to ‘shed love’, my friends are positively attached to their sheds because these structures give them a space to get in touch with who they are and be positively attached, to be rooted like a lotus leaf.
‘A lotus is born in water and lives in water and yet it remains absolutely free from the effects of water.’