Several weeks ago Thom came across a quote by author and speaker Eckhart Tolle that said, “Non-resistance, non-judgment, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.” Since then, we’ve been toying with that idea to see if it’s true or even possible. And as life would have it, personal experiences offer plenty of examples to test the theory. Is it possible that at the core of it all is the desire to control the uncontrollable?
The first test of the theory came a few days before leaving town on vacation when a piece of my back molar broke off. With nothing but a jagged edge where the tooth used to be, the good news was that it wasn’t painful, only problematic. Did I need to see a dentist right away? Was it going to start hurting soon? How will this affect my vacation? Whenever any of us is confronted with an issue, it’s normal for our minds to flood with questions and concerns. Did I wish it hadn’t happened? Of course. But it did, and now I had at least two ways to view it: #1 Complain, fuss or worry about the situation; or #2 Deal with it.
With Eckhart Tolle’s advice clearly on my mind I seized the opportunity to see whether non-judgment, non-resistance and non-attachment could lead to freedom and even enlightened living. Guess what? He’s right. By choosing to view the experience with my tooth through that lens, I immediately let go of trying to control or change the situation that was happening. I also refused to pretend that it hadn’t happened, or that I was attached to getting it fixed one way or another. By letting go of any perceived outcome, I accepted the situation and then happened to serendipitously find a dentist on vacation that turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had—and at a good price. That led to peace and maybe even a bit of enlightened living.
But is it always so easy? At the same time one of my close family members is going through a life-threatening health challenge. So here I am, still on vacation and unable to help in any practical and realistic way, even though a big part of me thinks I should be doing more. Not only am I not able to be of much help, I’m concerned that others who are even closer than I am are not doing their part—or at least their part they way I think they should. Does Eckhart Tolle’s advice still apply?
Of course it is good to explain exactly what is meant by non-resistance, non-judgment and non-attachment to achieve the full benefit of the advice. To begin with it is an awareness that fighting the reality of any situation is not only pointless, but actually makes matters worse. As author Byron Katie says in her book Loving What Is, “I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” But most of us do it all the time, don’t we? Until we can let go of fighting against or resisting the circumstances around us, we will always “lose,” because we are mentally trying to control something or someone beyond our control.
However, this does not mean that we should blindly accept whatever is happening or become a doormat to the situation. Quite the contrary. Instead of fighting what is happening, we instead consciously flow with the experience and are better able to address it in a proactive way. We are also better able to let go of any mental and emotional attachment that is creating a vicious feedback loop in our mind that frequently takes us into the future or the past where it’s impossible to do anything to help. When we are able to practice non-resistance, non-judgment and non-attachment, we become fully present and conscious in the moment.
We also then have the ability to choose to let go of any idea that what is happening is disturbing or even a problem to begin with. In some ways, the answer lies in the statement I made in my post about our universal need to “be right,” when I said, “I know much of that feeling is really an attempt to feel safe, in control, and win approval from others.” A similar issue popped up when I wrote about whether life is fair or not and said, “Only when I struggle to find myself, doubt my own worth, or feel Life is broken, do I need to control others and make Life Itself match my expectations.”
So how does this all apply on a very personal and practical level? First, there is nothing I can do to change the situation that my family member is experiencing. I also can’t control, fix or change how other family members are handling the situation. A big step was recognizing my desire for them to be different and refuse to let that obsess in my mind. In some ways it was valuable to realize that most of my judgments against them was a mask for my own guilt about not doing more. Next, my best option is to remember to embrace non-resistance about the circumstance, non-judgment about how treatment is going, and non-attachment to the outcome. While there continues to be certain actions I can take to support my loved-one, her life is her life to live, just as mine is mine to live.
I’m not implying this is an easy thing to do. We are all very conditioned to resist, try to fix or fight things we don’t like—and control others who are doing what we think they should or should not be doing. But as Eckhart Tolle said, “Being detached does not mean that you cannot enjoy the good that the world has to offer. In fact, you enjoy it more. Once you see and accept the transience of all things and the inevitability of change, you can enjoy the pleasures of the world while they last without fear of loss or anxiety about the future.”
I don’t have any final answers for non-resistance, non-judgment and non-attachment and perhaps that is the way it should be. But it seems that the more I continue to play with and explore the ideas, while attempting to incorporate them in my life, they seem to open up a space where I feel more free and at ease no matter what is happening to me or others. In fact, those three pieces of advice might be keys to both a SMART and a happy life.