from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 19 January 2013


Angie commented on one of the points in '15 Things to Give Up to Be Happy', saying that she wasn't sure she understood the point the author was making.

I thought I'd explore it briefly* here, from my own sense of it, as conceptually I think it's a really important point, and experientially it can completely change our perception of our lives.

The point was no. 14:
'Give up attachment. This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too (it still is), but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at it with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another,  attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and selfless; where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.' (

From my perspective on attachment, influenced both by my long practice of Zen and my training in Jungian-based psychotherapy, what the author means is that as long as we are attached to things being a certain way, outcomes being as we desire them, people staying exactly as we need them to be for our comfort, situations unfolding according to our desires, we cannot be at peace or happy, as we are continuously trying to control stuff, events and people according to our 'small self', the ego, and hand-in-hand with that goes our clinging on in fear that things will go in unwanted directions and we won't be able to cope.

This is a way of being constricted and driven by fear. That's not to say we can't have desires and needs, obviously, but as long as we hang on to them as ultimate truths and must-haves rather than letting things, situations and people be as they are we cannot be free.

Life IS change; we can do nothing about that. Everything is also transitory. If we accept this and get off our own backs, and the backs of those whom we love, we can all have happier lives. We might as well roll with it. (I'm not advocating taking a quietist disengaged approach to eg social and political change, by the way; just suggesting we don't invest ourselves quite as much in having to have it all turn out in the way we think it should. We do our best and we let it go. That's the theory!)

Zen – well, Buddhism in general – suggests that two things that keep us living 'small' and unhappy are our attachments, and our aversions: the things/people/situations we feel we can't live without, and the things/people/situations we can't stand. Both of these buy into a dualistic notion of self and other as being entirely separate, and ignore the fact that everything is interconnected. On this wheel, life is a perpetual and frightening rollercoaster.

Another aspect is that we so identify ourselves with the ego, its desires and fears, that we can't step back long enough either as to see the bigger picture or to contact what we might call our 'higher Self' or 'higher nature',  which is untroubled by transience and change in outer events.

Serenity comes from doing our best and then letting go. Acceptance, in other words.

I think also it's important to be clear about the difference between a kind of uncaring detachment, and a deep heartful awareness of non-attachment. There's been some confusion in translating some aspects of Eastern teachings for the Western culture and psyche, I think; and many people believe that the detachment of Buddhism is cold and disengaged.

My understanding is that non-attachment is a different quality altogether: we are still engaged with, in love with, even, the cosmos and this world, its sentient beings and diversity of forms; we are just not thrown off balance all the time by identifying our ego as reality, and striving to control and direct everything and other people according to our emotional reactions. We realise the deep truth in knowing that the universe and other people are not here to meet our needs. And knowing that everything changes, we don't try and hang on to what we simply can't, that's all; or rather, we practise not holding on to everything!

And – of course it's much easier to know it intellectually than to actually practise it in our daily lives! Do I manage it? Rarely. (You ought to see the turbulence I fall into when faced with a biggish decision!)

Do I feel better – and am I kinder – in those situations where I have briefly managed to let go of how I think things should be and turn out? Without question.

* I suppose we all know by now that my 'briefly' isn't, in fact...


  1. Roselle, thanks so much for taking the time to explain this concept so fully. It has given me much to think on and I can keep coming back to this post when I need to clarify it again.

  2. Thanks Angela - (I think you were Angie before? - Apologies if you'd have preferred me to use 'Angela' earlier.)

    I think this idea is a big one, and as a lesson I come back to it over and over - one of the major causes of suffering for ourselves and others, perhaps...

  3. Something in everything you say resonates so deeply with my present state, that I always feel accompanied and reassured. The fear never goes, but it feels more manageable.

    I always seem to say the same things here, but thanks as always,

  4. thank you for this, roselle. it ties in so well with a quote i came across the other day: 'nothing ever is, but all things are becoming. all things are the offspring of flux and motion', plato would you believe?? it's hard to live with the flux, but that's where the wisdom (and happiness) lies, i think...
    PS i've just ordered two of your books, btw :)

  5. Miriam, I'm sending you a hug. Sometimes all we can do is learn not to be dominated by fear, yes? You are not alone! x

    Claire - thank you so much - and for the lovely Plato quote (it reminds me of something at the edge of my mind). Plato - despite some of his more hardline chauvinistic theories on which much of your Western culture is built – had so much wisdom and contributed so much to our culture! I love that one. Yes - learning how to dance with uncertainty has been part of my journey these last 30 years!

    And thanks so much for the book order - you can now ignore my email checking you were a real person and not simply the latest in a spate of paypal phishing attempts - and I shall be delighted to post the 2 to you tomorrow, weather permitting...

  6. Roselle, not knowing any other way round I try posting this under the lable 'anonymous', still you know who I am:).This is my, unfortunately somewhat lengthy contribution: your post made my mind go round :)

    Is not being detached a state in which a subject stands at a certain distance from another subject/object BECAUSE he/she renounces in order not to have to feel related, i.e. responsible for him/her/it, at all or any longer?

    In a world of coldness, egoism, independence and greed, being detached is the logic consequence and at the same time the motor which makes the wheel go round in a vicious circle.

    The more economically, i.e. financially and socially independent we are here in the west the less there is a need for us to relate with other people. There is e.g. no longer any need for a woman to get married in order to be looked after money-wise - she earns her own. There is no need for family members to care for and look after possible orphans in their family – the state will provide for them.

    The more independent we get, however, the less responsibility we will feel. This may create the illusion of absolute freedom and we may end up whirling in space – locally and socially – relation-less, detached from everything and everybody. This means spinning around in a vicious circle because in such movement lies neither progress nor fulfilment – we gradually grow oblivious as to where the circle begins and where it ends.

    Non-attachment, however, implies that there is attraction between us and another (subject or object), by nature (physically or mentally), and the non-attaching part willingly abstains from clinging to the other part.

    This simply means that he/she leaves enough space the other part - space to move, to breathe - does not stifle him/her. It does not mean that there is no bond between the two – on the contrary, the bond will be even more intense, and certainly more valuable, as it is linked to an act of will-including liberation, and it will be a gain for the one attempting to succeed.
    The mother who is prepared to let her offspring run at the end of a loose rein needs to conquer her fear that some indefinable evil might reach her child. The more self-confidence she has raised in her descendant, the more will this latter be able to listen to his/her inner voice whose advice is normally unerring.
    Or, the lover whose fear of loss does not allow her/him to build up the trust needed to let the partner temporarily go separate ways. He/she too will also have an inner voice telling them what is at stake in case of danger; and if he/she is not able to listen to this inner voice, no fear of loss on the side of his/her partner will be able to hold him/her back.

    Non-attaching bonds enrich either part whereas being detached separates us from belonging to anybody and anything.

  7. I'm definitely an Angie. I think Google has decided to change my name for some reason!

  8. Beatrice, I SO appreciate all that - I think it's hugely insightful and philosophically profound. There's much to reflect on in what you say, too. I think it ties in too with this solitude/intimacy axis I speak of, doesn't it; and our confusion of aloneness with loneliness and need with love?

    Thank you so much for a very valuable contribution. I'm humbled by the fact that you can do this IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE! PLEASE don't apologise for length - everything you say is interesting and thought-provoking.


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