Well friends, this Saturday (Friday for the folks in the U.S.) will mark the end of my first month in New Zealand. It’s hard to believe an entire month has already gone by! If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably deduced that I’m wild about Auckland. I have my complaints (I’m looking at you, transit system) but by and large, I love this city, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’m having.
All that said, the inevitable has happened: I’m experiencing my first bout of … well, I wouldn’t call it homesickness. It’s more like a combination of anxiety and nostalgia (which I know sounds a lot like homesickness, but I promise it’s different). I’ve had a few rough days, and while I know it’s part of the territory, it’s hard to accept. I want to be embrace this city and its people, and I want to enjoy my time here without looking back. But the inevitable questions have arisen: Did I do the right thing by coming here? What if everything is different when I go back to the U.S.? Will my friends/husband/job in Chicago just continue to move forward without me, growing and changing as they inevitably must?
The answer to that last question: Yes. Growth and change are inevitable. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s scary to accept.
When we miss something – whether it’s a person, a city, a place, a memory or a feeling – what we are usually doing is holding onto something in the face of change. It’s human to miss things, but missing something and loving it are two different things. We can still love a person, city or memory without having any contact with it. We can feel strong ties to loved ones who’ve died, we can admire pictures of our city’s skyline from afar, we can love people whose lives simply no longer coincide with ours – we can love, and feel fulfilled in that love, without the presence of the object of our affection.
The key to doing this is to differentiate between love and attachment. This is a core theme in both Buddhism and Hinduism (and, uh, Jediism) and, in my opinion, it is one of the key components of living a life of peace and strength.
I’m not always good at this. I try to remind myself of this important principle as often as I can, but sometimes, my nostalgia and personal desires get in the way.
I’m currently struggling with attachment to a city and the memories I have there, but this theme can run much deeper than homesickness. The ones we love pass away. People we love move on, seemingly leaving us behind. We look back on our youth, knowing that time cannot move backward, knowing that we are moving on a fixed path toward a scary and unknowable destination.
Attachment is essentially fear. We fear the unknown, we fear losing the people we love, we fear death, we fear loss of control – and so we cling to things that were never ours to begin with, things that were always dynamic and poised for change, things that were never truly within our control.
My yoga studio has pictures and inspirational quotes displayed all over the walls of the bathroom. I thought I’d share a few of them because they touch on some of the feelings I’m currently dealing with (feelings that I know many of you are probably dealing with, too).
The quote above is one of my favorites because I think it’s reflective of a common problem. I speak from personal experience when I say that letting go of something – even if that thing makes me unhappy – can be very difficult. This can apply to a whole host of human experiences: boredom with work, toxic relationships, nagging doubts, feelings of inadequacy, an inability to connect with others, petulance about things beyond our control. I think we are often afraid to let go of things because we have doubts about what may come next. The past always seems safer because at least we know we survived it. That doesn’t make it the candle to which we should hold the rest of our lives.
These next two photos are also really great. They both illustrate the idea that happiness is a choice. Happiness and fulfillment are not symptoms of circumstance. This can be difficult to internalize (my Mom tried telling me this about 5,000 times in high school as I sat at the kitchen table in weird outfits and dark eyeliner) but it’s actually quite empowering. If we accept that our happiness depends only upon ourselves, nothing can touch us. We are then able to love without fear (without attachment) and are able to share our true selves with the people who love us in return.
There are lots of inspirational words in there. I hope I didn’t get too deep for your liking, but these are universal truths I know I’d benefit from internalizing. I went to my yoga studio feeling a bit down, and these ideals – love without attachment, personal control of happiness, dedication to inner strength – helped lift my mood.
I think it’s important to stay flexible. This applies to the physical aspect of yoga, but it also applies to mental and emotional flexibility. Those last two are much more difficult to develop than the first. Flexibility is important in a multitude ways: It allows us to bend without breaking, keeps us young, lets us accomplish difficult tasks, and lets us discover space in tiny nooks where we might not have otherwise attempted to go. Flexibility is the antithesis of rigidity. And rigidity – attachment – is the antithesis of growth.