Today’s Minimise Me post is very personal in nature, possibly more personal than I intended to be on this blog, but I think it’s important to explain my recent absence, and to share what has been a very formative and life-altering experience, one which has enabled me to learn some important lessons about attachment and appreciation for the present.
Over the summer, my long-term partner and I purchased a house together. A lovely little house, with a perfect garden for growing vegetables, and a wonderful homely feel. It wasn’t much, but it was exactly what we were looking for. We made an offer, and began planning to move in. In the months that we waited while the various legal boxes were ticked, we began looking at second-hand furniture and garden supplies, downsizing our possessions in preparation for moving, and looking excitedly towards the future. I completed a graduate placement with a wonderful environmental organisation, and began to develop a sense of my future path, and together, my partner and I began to plan for our life together, envisioning marriage, babies, and many more cats. In the five years we were together, we never once exchanged an angry word or felt hostility towards one another. Our friends openly commented on our obvious adoration for one another, and expected us to last forever. And then, on our moving day, as we piled the car high with our belongings ready to begin our new life together, my partner ended our relationship. No expectation, no warning, no explanation. Whether because of fear, sadness, detachment or a myriad of other reasons, the future we had planned was snatched away in an instant, and, rather than spending our first night together in our new home, I found myself lying awake on my mother’s sofa, with no possessions other than a bag of clothes and my laptop, no partner, no house, no money, no plans, no future. The loneliness, fear, panic and sheer heartbreak I experienced was overwhelming; I had never in my life experienced such sadness, and I felt myself grieving for the loss of a person I loved more than I could ever have anticipated, and mourning the loss of the future I thought we had both wanted.
Weeks later, the confusion, shock and mental self-flagellation continues to overhang like a persistent Manchester raincloud. I lost all interest in anything that made me feel like myself, and I remain unconvinced that I will ever really recover. But I have, at last, begun to appreciate the lessons I have learnt, and continue to learn, from this experience. Throughout my many painful contemplations of the events of the past few weeks, I’ve found myself haunted by the second Noble Truth of Buddhism:
“The origin of suffering is attachment.”
This Noble Truth refers not only to attachment to material possessions, but to concepts, hopes, and a general lack of acknowledgement of the transient nature of things. As evidenced by my description of the events of recent weeks, I had placed so much emphasis on the future, and everything I wanted and expected it to bring, that I struggled to cope when that future was taken away from me. Perhaps, had I focused my energy upon being more present and embracing each moment as it happened, rather than ignoring the present in favour of the future, I may have recognised whatever drove my partner to his ultimate decision, and been able to help and support him through his uncertainty. I became so attached to the idea of our fruitful and exciting future together that I neglected our present, and became so certain of our future together that I was ignorant to the possibility of its impermanence. Through this realisation, I have acknowledged a wider inability to simply enjoy the present without constantly worrying or working towards the future. In order to learn and grow from this experience, I have become aware that I need to find a greater balance between living in the past, present and future, to trust that where I currently am is exactly where I need to be, and to acknowledge that nothing is permanent or certain. These lessons, I hope, will help me to learn to embrace and be grateful for the good in my life while I have it, and not to become so focused upon the future path of my endeavours that I become blind to the beauty of the present.
In addition, I have learnt a great deal about my actual needs as a result of this experience. Separated from almost all of my belongings, with not even so much as a bed to call my own, and with no financial security as my savings had been consumed by my unpaid graduate placement and costs associated with moving, I began to feel as though I had nothing. Gradually, though, I realised that I, in fact, had everything. From the best friend who abandoned a night’s sleep to console me when I phoned her at 1am to tearfully recount the events of that horrible evening, and has been a constant source of love and guidance, to the family who took me in when I had nowhere to go and knew me sufficiently well to offer support and space in equal measures as needed, to the network of friends who have offered hugs, support, shelter and whisky, to the new acquaintances from my work placement who heard the news and were almost as heartbroken as me, to the strangers who offered kindness and understanding when I explained my circumstances whilst handling practicalities such as bill payments and employment, I learnt that everything I could ever need during such an awful time was there waiting for me, in both expected and not-so-expected places. I was plunged headfirst into an extreme minimalist lifestyle, and I felt richer than ever. I felt overwhelmed by a desire to show the same kindness to others in need, and arranged events such as a Christmas clothing and food drive for my city’s large population of homeless people, in order to repay a debt of gratitude that can never really be fulfilled.
Perhaps most crucially, I learnt to let go of the person I thought I was, and to become the person I needed to be. I found, and still find, it difficult to establish my identity outside of my relationship with my partner, which I imagine must be common following a long-term relationship, and I learnt to try to see the good in myself. I had reached such a seemingly irrevocable low as a result of the end of my relationship. I blamed myself, I punished myself by refusing to eat and take care of myself, and I found myself developing thoughts so sinister that they became terrifying. I meditated upon the concept of ahimsa, meaning compassion and non-violence of thoughts, words and actions towards all living things, including oneself, and eventually I began to understand the futility and the damaging effect of inflicting such punishing, self-deprecating and aggressive thoughts and feelings upon myself. I made a substantial effort to focus on the positive and acknowledge the good in myself, and to be proud of the progress I had made towards normality after everything that had occured. I began to realise that I had acted with maturity, patience and care in the wake of recent events, and that it was ok to embrace these positive realisations. I began to work to rid myself of the negative thoughts with which I had tortured myself for so long, and to embrace every step towards happiness. I am learning to follow my instincts, exercise patience, and accept my situation as it is, not as it was, or ‘should’ be. Little by little, I am beginning to let go of the person I was, and the life I expected to have, in order to become the person I am in this moment. It isn’t easy; it often feels as though I’m learning to walk again, and I have found myself backsliding on more than one occasion. But gradually, I’m learning to detach myself from a past I cannot change, and to let go of a future that can never really be certain. If there is a silver lining on the cloud of sadness that’s been my constant companion since November, it’s my determination to let go and embrace the present, because really, it’s all we’ll ever have.