Inspiration for childless and childfree women

Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice


At 30,000 feet, enlightenment seems much more possible, I find. Yesterday, as the lights of Ho Chi Minh City drifted past in the darkness underneath me, I read these words by Zoketsu Norman Fischer (in Shambala Sun, May 2012):

“Practitioners have always understood impermanence as the cornerstone of Buddhist teachings and practice. All that exists is impermanent; nothing lasts. Therefore nothing can be grasped or held onto. When we don’t fully appreciate this simple but profound truth we suffer, as did the monks who defended into misery and despair at the Buddha’s passing. When we do, we have real peace and understanding, as did the monks who remained fully mindful and calm.”

This passage made beautiful sense to me. I mentally sketched out a blog post about non-motherhood and freedom from grasping. I even took a photo of the sky through my little oval aeroplane window to illustrate the post.

A few hours later, having been picked up by H at Bangkok airport, I was strolling happily and peacefully with him to our hotel and suddenly a motorbike swerved very close to us. At first we thought the riders had lost control of their bike, so it took a moment to register that they had sped off and that my handbag had been wrenched off my arm and was sailing away down the street with them.

When very suddenly relieved of a wallet, camera, iPod, journal, some medicine and a locket (why? why did I decide it didn’t go with my dress and take it off?) it turns out I am, after all, a huge walking bundle of graspiness. I think I spent about six hours straight reworking those few seconds in every possible different formation so that I didn’t lose my bag. I imagined and wished for improbable, if not impossible scenarios in which my things were returned to me. In the end, the best I could do was hope that the thieves’ needs were greater than mine and attach myself to a mental image of one of them having a rare opportunity to give someone he loved a beautiful locket and of her treasuring it and keeping it safe and wondering why there was a tiny dried flower inside it (the first H gave me).

So quite clearly, I am not in a position to be writing about detachment or peace with impermanence in relation to non-motherhood or anything else. But the fact that there seems to be a Buddha on just about every street corner of this beautiful city is helping me to be philosophical about it. And evidence of hardship all around – real hardship, not just a bunch of frozen bank accounts and a grazed wrist – is a constant reminder of how fortunate I am.

For now, that’s about the best I can do.

If you would like to read more about Buddhist thinking in relation to non-motherhood you might like this post about workability. If you’re interested in the idea of contentment, you might find this a helpful thought (I do).

But in the meantime, how about you? Have you ever mulled over a connection between non-motherhood and grasping/not grasping? And if you too aspire to grasp at things less tightly, have you made any progress?

[Since the photo I took for this post disappeared with my camera, the
beautiful image here is reproduced with permission from cornflower blue studio.]


21 comments on “attachment

  1. Kaitlyn
    April 25, 2012

    I believe it’s EASIER for non-parents to grasp what they want, but in the end it depends on their personality and motivation.

    • olivia reading
      April 25, 2012

      Kaitlyn, I hadn’t thought of it that way round in this context, but you’re absolutely right. Lots of my friends who are mothers have developed amazing capacities for patience for situations like this:

      I’d been thinking more that as a non-parent I feel I can at least aspire to be less attached to things and certain ways of feeling/being but as a non-mother I imagine that becomes virtually impossible. I don’t think I could even aspire to release my attachment to my own child’s happiness and safety and all the things I would hope might help that along, much less my attachment to the child him/herself.

      Thank you for pointing out the other angle!

  2. tiffanylo
    April 25, 2012

    Oh, my goodness, what a dreadful experience… So sorry to hear this occurred!! I am glad you are safe and sound, but still… I really hope that things improve from here.

    • olivia reading
      April 25, 2012

      Thank you tiffanylo :). Yes, things are getting better. Everyone has been so kind – nothing was too much trouble for the hotel staff or the police and even back home, with the various things I’ve needed to sort out (insurance, cards cancelled etc) people have been incredibly helpful. So yes, things are improving, and I love this city to bits.

  3. llanwyre
    April 25, 2012

    I’m SO sorry you had that experience!

    I’m terrible about grasping for things–I love my creature comforts and my technology, and I’m a creature of habit, but I find that constant meditation helps me refocus my energy on what’s really important. I suspect, though, that I wouldn’t have the luxury of meditating for an hour in the morning if I had kids! 🙂

    • olivia reading
      April 25, 2012

      Illanwyre, thank you. Technology is one of my biggest attachments at the moment too. If my laptop had been in the bag I would have had a much harder time. I even have a bit of an internal tantrum when internet access at a hotel isn’t up to speed!

      I’m still working my way up to an hour of morning meditation. I think it’s a wonderful idea. I wonder if that’s a discipline from your time in India – I think you said before that you were at an ashram there. What a wonderful experience it sounds…

      It can’t be coincidence that being childless is part of a deeper involvement in so many religious and spiritual paths. It must be in part to help with the problem of attachment (I do think motherhood and fatherhood make attachment all but unavoidable, and also undesirable) but it’s also so important that it creates opportunities for meditation.

  4. valkyrie5959
    April 25, 2012

    OMG! Attachment is an interesting concept. I can’t believe one could be human
    without some type of attachment. I bet Jesus or Buddha would have felt loss if
    a favourite sandal broke and they had to discard it. That “mugging” was extreme and I felt terrified reading it.
    It could have been so much worse and thank God you are both OK.
    Shaken but OK. I was mugged on my first day visiting New York. The rest of my
    trip was devoid of further character building experiences as I hope your trip will be too. Rotten “awfullisers” to quote Leunig an Australian cartoonist.

    • olivia reading
      April 25, 2012

      Thanks valkyrie – it was a bit character building but we are fine and only had a bag snatched, not mugged (thank goodness). I felt awful at first for not having put up a bit more of a struggle, then quickly relieved I hadn’t when I read a bit online about what can happen to tourists who do (not just in Bangkok, of course – as you know from your own experience, these things can happen anywhere).

      I feel my character has been built quite enough for one trip and am hoping for plain sailing from here :).

  5. Mali
    April 25, 2012

    Oh no. Bangkok is a much-loved second home to me (I lived there as an exchange student, and later as a diplomat), and so I almost feel guilty for what happened to you. I hope you get to enjoy plenty of great Thai food and relaxing foot massages to help you regain your equilibrium.

    As for attachment and grasping, I think I am more focused on people and experiences than things, compared to some of my friends who are mothers, but that is probably just our personalities. I do have an obsessive love for my travel photos though.

    • olivia reading
      April 26, 2012

      Mali, I love it here too and this is the first nasty experience I’ve had in this city. How gorgeous to have actually lived here – I fantasise about it all the time!

  6. Beam_Me_Up_Scotty
    April 25, 2012

    My first lesson in impermanence came before I even became Buddhist. I used to own a large concrete Buddha statue- it traveled with me from base housing in North Carolina, where it was given to me by my brother (who “acquired” it in Florida). I moved to an apartment complex in Vancouver, WA, which was mostly filled with old ladies and middle aged-couples whose kids had flown the coop. I sat my Buddha by the front door, and he stayed there, unmolested, for a year. Slowly, the atmosphere in the complex began to change, right after it was sold to another apartment management company. There started to be more young adults, more kids, and a lot of teenagers. On Halloween night, I went to a Halloween party with a friend, and he drove me home. When we got to my front door, he asked “Hey – Where’s your Buddha?”
    Someone had stolen my Buddha – a concrete statue of at least 30lbs.
    It took me a few weeks to get over…and sometimes, I feel sad, when I see pictures of our place back then, with Buddha in them. Then, I realized how funny it really was. I mean…can you picture it? One or more teenagers, lugging this heavy, ridiculously unwieldy Buddha statue down the street – it made me crack up, just thinking about it. If they wanted it that much, to look that silly, then perhaps they needed it more than I did.
    And then, I thought of the irony of it all – Buddha was stolen to give me a lesson in impermanence. So, whenever I misplace something, or one of my plants dies, or something is stolen from me, I tell myself “This is a lesson in impermanence.”

    • olivia reading
      April 26, 2012

      That is such a brilliant story, Audrey. I LOVE the mental image of those kids lugging the statue down the road (though of course I am sorry you lost it). And it is a wonderfully ironic sequence of events too. I think I’d better make a mantra of your final statement!

      If ever you’re stuck for something to do (ha!) I bet Shambala Sun would love to publish that story :).

      • Beam_Me_Up_Scotty
        April 29, 2012

        I am quite busy with school, but I could entertain polishing it up a bit and submitting it. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  7. Dienna
    April 26, 2012

    That sucks that your stuff was stolen. I don’t get why people have to do that nonsense.

    • olivia reading
      April 27, 2012

      It did suck a bit Dienna! But now we’re in Chiang Mai which is just lovely, so feeling much better 🙂

  8. honeymyrtle
    April 28, 2012

    Was writing such a long comment that it turned into a blog post of its own. Hope the rest of the travel is not quite so eventful!

    • olivia reading
      April 29, 2012

      You have much more discipline than me, honeymyrtle! I just left a full blog post’s worth of wittering over at yours 🙂

  9. Living my Life
    April 29, 2012

    Graspiness – I love it – I think I’m a huge walking bundle of clinginess! Now I understand why you couldn’t take photos of the snakes and dragons. Sorry this happened – while I don’t consider myself a huge collector of possessions I know I’m quite attached to my possessions. Especially my clothes I was horrified to realise the other day when I thought the house might burn down as I wondered if I’d left the iron on. My clothes are a collected over many years from the Camberwell market – small monetary outlay but of huge worth to me – some fabulous pieces in there! Oh, I’m actually very materialistic!

    • olivia reading
      April 29, 2012

      Me too! But at the same time, I don’t want to fight the fact that small things that do others no harm bring me pleasure, especially not things like clothes from markets!

      Even though I’m not much of a foodie, recently I read Gay Bilson’s book Plenty where she writes about her attachment to a beautiful green bowl. She talks about holding it lightly, with open hands, instead of grasping it tightly. For me, I think that’s a better goal than true detachment. It will definitely keep me going for now, anyway!

  10. Megan
    April 29, 2012

    Olivia, just wanted to say how sorry I am that this happened to you – especially the locket! Ugh. It reminded me of a time when I left a laptop on the back seat of a car and came back to find the back window smashed in and the laptop gone (silly me for leaving the laptop in plain view). After my initial anger and shock wore off, I tried to feel compassion for those who were so desperate that they had to steal things to survive. I do agree that as a non-mother, it is far easier to embrace an attitude of non-attachment to things. Babies and children simply need certain things to survive, and then when they enter adolescence they may think they can’t live without other things (the “right kind of” jeans, handbags, etc.)…it is a lot easier to step away from the materialistic culture when you only have your own needs (and ego) to worry about. I hope the rest of your trip is going well – it sounds wonderful. (I have Chiang Mai on my list for my 50th birthday trip – in 7.5 years!)

    • olivia reading
      April 29, 2012

      Thanks Megan 🙂 – and how horrible about your laptop.

      Chiang Mai is so gorgeous – a perfect place to celebrate your fiftieth I think. Warm, peaceful, beautiful and a feeling of goodwill all around!

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This entry was posted on April 25, 2012 by in peace and quiet and tagged , , .

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