How do you release emotional attachments? Lessons in Impermanence from the Garden
As a psychotherapist specializing in holistic wellness, I am constantly using my own life as a petri dish for the exploration, understanding and mastery of the work I do with clients. My garden has recently provided a potent example of the negative consequences of emotional attachment. My fence was damaged by fallen tree limbs in a winter storm, and over the last few months has become more and more unstable. In the early spring, I planted a flower garden along the fence, putting action towards the important value of cultivating beauty in your home environment. As the pressure grows to replace the collapsing fence, I realized that the flower garden will be damaged and possibly destroyed in the process.
What a lesson in impermanence, and a great example of how emotional attachments get in the way of long-term wellness. It makes sense to have some emotional connection with the garden that I made and have cared for daily. The flowers are just beginning to bloom, bringing beauty to the yard for my family to enjoy. As I discuss the fence replacement with my husband, I can see how my emotional attachment to the garden fuels resistance. And there it is, clear as day, the way emotional attachment keeps us fixed in instant gratification avoiding the difficult choices that support long term wellness.
Here is an opportunity for me to release emotional attachment and increasing emotional maturity. Replacing the fence means protecting a flower garden for years to come, but it is at the cost of the current garden. How often do we have this same experience in other areas of our life? The things we desire for our future, come at the cost of some current experience of comfort or happiness.
So, how do we release emotional attachment and increase emotional maturity?
1). I get very clear about the total reality of the situation. The fence replacement is a good thing because it will support a garden for years to come, I have enjoyed the process of creating, nurturing, and witnessing the current garden. Both perspectives are true, at the same time. Often our default mode of thinking is black and white, either I’m sad/mad about the current garden being damaged or I’m excited about putting in a new fence and the next garden it will support. Allow a holistic, long-term perspective to hold the emotional paradox of seemingly conflicting feelings. You have the capacity to feel and think many things all at once.
2). I give myself permission to have feelings about losing the current garden. More than anything, I am sad to damage the plantsI helped grow. Emotional pain wants us to narrow our vision and only see the sadness. So, I wrap this feeling in larger awareness through gratitude. I am grateful to have had such a lovely experience with the garden and I know this sadness is part of the experience of the impermanence of life. Many things in our earthly life will have a beginning, middle, and end. The value of each thing is not determined by how long it lasts, but by the experience we had with it while it was here. This viewpoint helps me understand that the sadness is ok and not the whole story.
3). I pay homage to the current garden. Spending as much time as possible enjoying its beauty with my family. And I get excited about the next garden I will create, taking tips and tricks I learned along the way from this current garden. Allowing the energy of legacy to infuse the vision for the next creation.
Now let’s apply this to something that everyone experiences, a problematic relationship. You may be in a current business, friendship, or romantic partnership that is comfortable and even enjoyable at times, but there is a looming awareness of incompatibility. Everyone I know has been in a relationship that they outgrew. And not necessarily because of some big traumatic experience, sometimes it is just as simple as the individuals growing apart. Maybe the relationship was ok for a period or even good, but we are meant to grow and change, and not every relationship will grow with us. You have worked to make things better, but you just know in your gut that it’s not right long term. Like the fence that continues to lean, no matter how much you’ve tried to make it better, one day it will fall. And instead of watching for something outside of yourself to end the relationship, you can take responsibility for yourself by putting action to your intuition that the relationship needs to end.
1) Get clear about the situation, stop avoiding your intuition and face the truth head on. Even though the relationship may be ok right now, it’s not what you want or need long term. It is true that if you end this relationship, you have no guarantee that something better will happen, and that is scary. It is also true that if you stay in this relationship, you know that you won’t experience the ideal partnership you desire. We must be able to see our life and ourselves clearly in order to make the choices that best support our goals.
2) Next, give yourself permission to feel all the emotions around ending the relationship. Emotion is energy that wants to move, create a container for you to express what you’re feeling. This container can be going on a nature walk where you reflect on the relationship, sitting down to meditate or journal about your experience with this person, or asking a supportive friend to actively listen as you share what you’re experiencing. Honor the emotions, let them be expressed, so they can move and make room for clarity and courage,
3) Take action. Work to communicate the need to end the relationship with clarity and respect. Do this communication in person, from a grounded place. Remind yourself that they have a right to whatever reaction they have, and your responsibility is only to your own communication. Regardless of their reaction, you know that this relationship is not working and that you’re taking action to end it with respect.
4) Finally, use this relationship and any bigger patterns associated with it, to help you create a vision for your ideal future relationship. Write down the characteristics, in detail, that you desire. Allow yourself to image what it will feel like to engage with this person and how the relationship with support and benefit your life. Let it be the road map/blueprint to a more compatible relationship.
It’s human to have emotional attachments. And it’s our responsibility to identify how they are creating unhealthy experiences or patterns in our life. Once identified you can follow the strategy provided to move forward towards holistic wellness.
1. View the situation from a broader perspective.
2. Honor, express, and release the emotions.
3. Take action with clarity and respect.
4. Create a vision for the future.