Kiss the joy as it flies
When I was in my late twenties, I developed a fixation with the idea of owning my own piece of land somewhere. I was living in London at the time and had come across a book entitled ‘Forty Acres and a Mule’ which was about the plight of slaves in America who were released from slavery under a new order issued during the Civil War. The newly-freed families were allocated a plot of land and leant a mule by the army to help them get started with working the land. Sadly, this order was reversed by President Johnson when he took over the presidency from Lincoln and the land was taken off them. It reminded me of what had happened to the people of my own homeland back in the day when the British had taken ownership of our land and we were forced to rent it back from them. When the potato crop failed as a result of disease in the 1800s, the Irish tenant farmers had no way to pay their rent and were evicted. The rest is history, as they say, and a very sad one too that screams of mass death and reluctant emigration. Centuries of oppression left its mark on many generations of Irish, and one of the ways this has manifested itself is in our national obsession with land ownership.
Putting down roots
So, when it came to me establishing myself in London in 1997 and looking to buy my own home, I would only consider a freehold property. There was no way I was going to pay ground rent to any freeholder! Which is how it came to be that I bought my little Victorian cottage in Camberwell. It was a bit of a stretch, having barely enough money left at the end of the month once I’d paid my mortgage. I was happy, though, because I owned my piece of land.
But it was just an illusion. The bank owned my house, if the truth be told. I was lucky that I had a job that allowed me to make my monthly payments, but had I lost that job I have no doubt the bank would have evicted me. Lucky for me, I was promoted at work and the increased earnings meant that, before too long, I was no longer beholden to the bank and became the sole proprietor of the house and the land it sits on.
Clinging to the past
This week marks 16 months of sober living for me. Sobriety isn’t just about not drinking though, or not taking drugs or not engaging in other addictive behaviours. It’s so much more than that. It is about changing the things in ourselves that hold us back. Russell Brand puts it succinctly; ‘Recovery is recovering the person you were meant to be’. I guess the first brilliant benefit of not drinking anymore is waking up every single day with a clear head. This is very helpful when it comes to identifying the things that are getting in the way of my happiness. I have recently discovered that one of these things is my attachment to my house in London. A part of me has clung to it as though it would keep the light of my youth burning and give me hope that one day I’d be back there, enjoying my freedom and independence again. In reality, my home is in Australia now with my family and my London days are well and truly behind me. There have been times during the past 15 years that I have struggled with the responsibilities of parenthood and it was the house in London that provided a false comfort to me. It might seem crazy to some, but I have only just accepted that it is time to let go, time to surrender the things of my youth and embrace the present moment with all my heart. Thanks to this new-found acceptance, I have excitedly put my house on the market and a lady in her late twenties is in the process of buying it. It’s her turn to enjoy the freedoms that come with such independence.
Which brings me to the subject of non-attachment. We’ve all heard it mentioned in the context of Buddhist teachings, or when learning about meditation or practicing yoga. But what is it exactly and what is it about non-attachment that can empower us to live life to the full? If you imagine that you are trying to meditate, but your mind keeps wandering off to ‘all the things’ that you ‘should’ be doing instead. In the first instance, you are becoming attached to the thoughts in your head, allowing them to settle in your mind and influence how you feel and how you meditate (or don’t!). In the second instance, you are attaching importance to ‘all the things’ because you have expectations of yourself which are preventing you from being in the moment. Now the reason you wanted to meditate in the first place is because your mind’s ‘busy-ness’ has been causing you anxiety lately and you want to get back to a place of calm. Non-attachment is where we relinquish control and allow ourselves to be in the present moment, free of expectations and accepting of the fact that everything is unfolding as it should. It’s not about being detached but about fully embracing what we are doing without worrying about whether it’s going to work out or not. I am reminded of the words from the Serenity Prayer;
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Grant me the courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference..
I love the word serenity. It conjures up a sense of peace and calmness that comes from knowing in my heart that I am where I am meant to be, doing what I am meant to be doing. I have found the courage to take control of the things I needed to, such as my drinking and my negative thinking, and changed myself as a result. Because of this, I now have the serenity to accept that the rest is unfolding as it should. An example of how this is played out is in my relationships with others. While I can’t control how others feel about me, I can control how I feel about myself. In taking ownership of my behaviours and my attitudes, the people around me have changed how they respond to me. I am careful not to have unrealistic expectations of myself and others, and instead accept that we are each on our own journey that is made up of joys, hardships, successes and struggles, all of which forms a part of what makes us unique. I am slowly letting go of the idea that things ‘should or shouldn’t’ be a certain way, and instead embracing each moment for what it brings. That’s where I find freedom.
Here’s a lovely quote from the London Poet and Painter, William Blake who lived from 1752-1827;
He who binds to himself a joy.
Does the winged life destroy; But
he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternity’s sun rise.’
I hope what I’ve shared this week will strike a chord with you. Thanks for taking the time to read it.