on non-attachment

i.

My hands were shaking. My hands shook when you texted me and when I was sitting in your beat-up car driving over the Bay Bridge. They shook when I talked to my friends about you. They shook when we were sitting across from each other at the darkened restaurant, waiting for shakshuka and two glasses of orange wine. When my hands shook I drank to steady them. Then I felt worse the next day. Falling in love was six months of my hands shaking. At the time I wrote this in my journal:

What if the rivers don’t freeze anymore & the winters keep getting warmer & warmer & Kim Jong-Un’s stubby fingers launch a nuclear weapon & the Yellowstone volcano explodes & the Arecibo message is intercepted by unfriendly aliens & the killer drone breaks the window at night & the killer drone breaks the glass at night & you wake up in the morning & don’t love me anymore? No matter: as my old loves have been reincarnated in you, as I see the moon shining out from your body, I recognize the universal brilliant in the particular. My life an eddy in the current, every coming back again & yet again, the old sublated in the new.

I was trying to puzzle out what non-attachment might feel like. I didn’t understand it yet.

I wanted to believe that love could be reborn again and again in different people.

When no one else could comfort me I comforted myself.

Good art is the result of an unbearable life. If you survive it, that is.

ii.

Passages I highlighted in Gravity and Grace:

To love God through and across the destruction of Troy and of Carthage—and with no consolation. Love is not consolation, it is light

The reality of the world is the result of our attachment. It is the reality of the self which we transfer into things. It has nothing to do with independent reality. That iS only perceptible through total detachment. Should only one thread remain, there is still attachment.

We possess nothing in the world—a mere chance can strip us of everything—except the power to say ‘I’. That is what we have to give to God—in other words, to destroy. There is absolutely no other free act which it is given to us to accomplish—only the destruction of the ‘I’.

Simone Weil and Anais Nin were the two women I read over and over again. Simone was a saint, the great intellectual mystic of the 20th century. Anais was a brilliant writer who seduced everyone.

From her 1948-1955 journal:

My image of others has gone through a thousand transformations, from idealization to total rejection, to re-creation and rescue of a totally new self. As I changed, my perspective changed. The theme of images. How one must struggle against this creation and invention of others, listen to them attentively, let them state their own case, weigh and balance the impressions. Otherwise this invention takes over, or projection. We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire. Often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment because it does not fit them.

Anais “loved to touch the dreamer and be taken into his dream.” Simone wanted to love from afar:

It is an act of cowardice to seek from (or to wish to give) the people we love any other consolation than that which works of art give us. This helps us through the mere fact that they exist. To love and to be loved only serves mutually to render this existence more concrete, more constantly present to the mind. But it should be present as the source of our thoughts not as their object. If there are grounds for wishing to be understood, it is not for ourselves but for the other, in order that we may exist for him.

One believed in attachment and one didn’t. I was not Simone and did not love as the saints did. Instead I lashed myself so tightly to you there was blood on the sheets, blood on the bathroom tiles, blood in the tub and I still wasn’t done. It was monstrous, this need for closeness.

I told a friend that I wanted to love as Simone did. He told me that love without everyday reciprocity—without mutuality—wasn’t real.

Hearing this reminded me of a boy who had a particular fantasy. The fantasy was that we would write about each other, and think about each other, but we wouldn’t talk to each other. Then we could have the love without the guilt. I said sure. I had begun to believe that it was best to accept the reality other people wanted to inhabit.

Bowen:

Differentiation of self, as it occurs within a person, is viewed as the ability to separate thinking and feeling, particularly in situations in which the tendency for emotionality to over- ride thinking is the greatest.

If you’ve achieved self-differentiation, you don’t feel the need to take on responsibility for someone else’s pathologies. You know you have your hands full with your own.

I told another friend about Anais’ diaries and he read them. He said they were good, very good, better than he expected.

iii.

When men say I love you, they mean I own you.

Who wrote that? Was it Plath or Atwood or Duras or Rhys? I don’t remember.

What I do remember: that belonging to someone relieved you of responsibility. If you were obsessed with another person’s life, you never had to think about your own. The New Yorker podcast said the barn in the short story was a metaphor for a woman. Because people use women as repositories to store feelings. Because people look at women and see a safe place to hide.

What I do remember: when I gave up attachment, I gave it up all at once.

In the hotel room the walls rippled and I arced right out of my body. I know you don’t want to believe it was this simple but it was. The truth was that no person had ever made me feel like this. I had never been so completely annihilated. That’s when I knew that I didn’t have to look for the feeling in other people anymore.

I used to believe that letting go would be the end of everything. But it was the beginning of my real life. The life I didn’t want to run away from.

You’re so unreactive, N told me two weeks ago. It sounded like an accusation. Because I had my books and my writing and S and the same friends I had kept for the past five years. Because I acted like I didn’t need anything more.

I didn’t want to be less attached but it happened anyway. I started to believe that joy is the overflowing consciousness of reality. I saw Simone everywhere. I don’t know what to tell you. I started to understand that there was a form of euphoria that was not tied to the self, not tied to the beloved, not tied to beliefs. And therefore could never be lost.

iv.

I was recently talking to a friend about the tension we perceived between a Type-A goal-oriented Western mentality and a more relaxed, in-the-moment Eastern perspective. How to love yourself and also want to change yourself—how to plan everything but still leave room for intuition.

I know that my life and work are not a means to an end. But I still set goals that I’m not sure I can meet. My dreams are restless and uneasy. I’m tense almost all the time, my muscles knotted except right after yoga. N calls this high arousal. As in: high valence, high arousal.

I’ve been paranoid my whole life. Even now that I have nothing to lose I can’t shake my fear.

I don’t see your writing in you at all, someone said. Because you’re so controlled and your writing isn’t. In response I made a joke about duality. I made a joke about the intersection of Adderall and acid. I made a joke about how one day I started unravelling and now I can never stop and—wait, are you even subscribed to my Substack? Save the critique, dude.

v.

When did my hands stop shaking?

Will they ever shake again?

I sent you a Wittgenstein quote. You didn’t like Wittgenstein. You said, Didn’t he contradict himself, anyway?

You were trying to hold on and I was trying to let go. I still thought Wittgenstein was right but I could not close the gap between us with language.

From my journal in 2018:

Loneliness comes from being unable to communicate things that seem important. I am overwhelmed by the impossibility of articulating the truth, knowing that the truth is subject to change, just as sounds in language shift gradually over time, eroded by usage itself, so that what was once correct is no longer correct. Fallibilism seems like the only tenable philosophical position. I still want to believe that anything that can be thought can be thought clearly. I want to think things through the best I can and write my observations down. When everything seems unbearably precarious, I remind myself not to panic the same way I remind myself not to panic when my backpack gapes open and everything spills out and I get on my knees to shove it back in. The antidote is slowing way down. The antidote is, quite simply, to pay more attention.