Four Rules for Living, #4, Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome

The anthropologist and spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien, is credited with these four rules for living:  show up, pay attention, tell the truth, don’t be attached to the outcome.


Not one of these “Four Rules for Living” is easy.  Simple maybe, easy enough to understand (we think we understand, anyway), but not so easy to actually live.  If we are honest, and if we are looking to live a life based on our deepest self, we know these rules are not easy.  We find them challenging.  We know them to be a daily practice, a hard practice of letting go.  We know we do not choose to live our truest Self – instead, we fall into that Self, by letting go of ego.  Hard practice.  Hard – and life-giving, ultimately.


Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Now, this is a tough one! “Don’t be attached to the outcome.” Do your part, speak your truth –  and let it go. In other words, do your part and trust. In other words, do your part and watch what happens. In other words, do your part.

This matter of “letting go” is so often misunderstood. We do what we can. Sometimes what we choose to do will have noticeable results, and sometimes what we choose to do won’t make a significant ripple. What we “let go” of is our ego-involvement. “Let go” of controlling the outcome. Let go of your ego-attachment to what happens.

Fall into it.  Don’t swim against the tide of your ego.  Fall into it.  And what you will discover is this:  when you fall, you fall into your Self, your True Self, the Holy.

So much of life energy has been wasted – and destructive – by forcing itself on others.  Tribes force themselves on other tribes, nations on other nations.  We are critical of Russia’s military action in Syria; Russia is critical of the military action of the U.S. in Syria.  We see this waste of life energy in our own lives, in the lives of others, and we see this waste of life energy in the world.  And we know this:  life is not honored, truth is not honored, life is not nurtured by force.  And yet – we are all complicit in this waste of energy.  Not one of us is better than another.  We all act destructively, even doing so in the name of love, or honor, or nation, or religion.

If we’ve each done our work, the work of showing up, paying attention, and telling the truth, the possibility is that our work will succeed, although maybe not in the way we’ve imagined.

So often when we have ego-attachment to our actions and choices, we look for particular results. We think we’re in control, so if things go as planned, they’ll go the way we expect them to go. In that case, we also think we know what is the best way for things to work out.  We are strategists, and life does not allow for strategists!  To believe so is a kind of insanity!

Trust is the word here. Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. Trust as if your life depends on trust. Trust as if you understand that all the control in the world, all the care-ful-ness in the world, cannot assure the results you want. Trust that there is Something or Someone or Some-Other out there that is in charge of the results.  And that Something or Someone or Some-Other is not only “out there,” but animating you, bringing you to life – as you let go of your attachment.

This is the hardest work in the world.  More than ever, our world needs  people who have grown up, who have done their real work – which is the work to become adult.  And that work is the work of letting go, of “don’t be attached to the outcome.”

Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”


rounding out life…

question-mark-2-1409684289t9wI hope I’m a long way from dying.

We don’t know, do we? I am grateful to have lived this life that is mine, very grateful. I’m grateful not only for the “good” things, but even for the hard things. I count myself as privileged, in many, many, many… ways.

Now that I’m over 60, though, I am more and more aware that I am growing older. For the most part, my health has been good, all of my life. (I am grateful for this, also). Actually, I began to realize that I was growing older – like all of us! – when I turned 61. And so I can relate to those who are in denial.

That’s how I think of it. Sometimes, in an effort to sound positive and to not make that leap into a deep acceptance of growing older, I hear someone say: “I am in perfect health!” Well, maybe you are! But, like me at least, you are also growing older. You, too, will need the doctor more than you did in the past. Young people already look at you as if you are older – if they look at you at all.

Several years ago, I traveled with a small group to a wonderful retreat in Germany. On the plane flight home, I made my way to the back of the plane to use the restroom. When I left the restroom, several young men were in the aisle. They did not look at me at all, and they hardly moved so that I could make my way up the aisle.  I know the reality that “older” women are invisible.

Invisible!  How sad is that?  The wisdom-carriers, those who have lived, and not lived, and are alive to tell it…!  Invisible!

When the weather is warm and the days are long, I long for the days when I was young.  What a joy to bicycle to work, to spend long days in the sun, to enjoy a music festival under the long, long, sweet evenings, humid and languid.  What joy to walk barefoot in the streets, way past midnight!  What luxury to be a student, to set my schedule by classes and papers and interesting conversations in the Student Union.  What a joy to look at the young men – and to have them look at me!  What a joy to know that life lay ahead of me!

But those were hard times, too.  Things are always easier in hind-sight, aren’t they?  Those were fear-filled times, times of uncertainty, of not-knowing, of living with the anxiety of knowing I had to make that passage into being an adult, whatever that meant for me.  And there were the days of loneliness, of fears, of failed relationships, of being adrift in my life, until I began to realize I had to grow up, on my own terms, in my own way.  I had to take the road that was calling to me.

And – I did.  For that, I am grateful, too.  I am grateful.

One of the gifts of being “older” is that I know that when we take that step – when we step off the cliff to fall into the journey of trust in What Is, without seeing the safety net, without knowing the answers, without having someone’s hand to hold – except the hand of the great unseen, unknown one – the journey will not always be happy, or be easy.  It is in the nature of journey to have beginnings, and endings, like birth, and death.  And in the “in between,” in all those days and moments and years, there are lots of hard times.  I know it now.  I don’t expect to take a magic pill and be all happy, all the time.  Life – the spiritual journey included – is not happy all the time.  We do a dis-service to life, and to ourselves, by only expecting happy times, good times.

But I digress… or do I?  I am writing today about that ping, that small, silent, but strong ping that “pings” in my solar plexus, day after day, when I know I will never know those long evenings, that utter bliss – and terror – of being young.  I am older, now.  I am one who has lived for many years, now.  I am one who has known this life, my life, as it is.  I am one who now, as I am, must surrender again to the great expanse of time and distance and space.

Even now, I must say, “Yes!” to this time, to this call, to this journey.  Come what may.

And will I discover the wisdom in this falling, in this surrender?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  I’m not there, yet.  For now, all I have is the ping, that little ping that is the reality of this time, this age, this moment.




Sunday Morning Meanderings – Power Struggle


power-struggleIn my own journey, I am coming to a new place. Let me see if I can write about it – cogently, clearly…

As I’ve written before, it seems as if the only real work of this life – of these lives that are ours – is surrender, surrender to what is, to what will not leave, to reality as reality presents itself to each one of us.   How to surrender is quite another thing – how do we surrender to what is?  What is the movement, the action, the non-action we must take to surrender?  I cannot say for sure, although I know many stories – of my own and of others – of those moments of surrender.

Over the past few years, much has been written about the polarity of the people of this country.  We see the polarity played out in so many ways, not the least in the failure to operate of our elected officials, of the Congress, of the leaders of the nation.  “Deadlock” is the political word, I believe.  In a deeper sense, I would continue to use the word, “polarity.”

As I reflected, over time, about the polarity, I began to realize that I, too, was part of the polarity.  How did I see this?  How many times was I able to engage in conversation with someone with whom I do not see eye to eye, someone “across the aisle?”  Truth is, I don’t even know many folks “across the aisle.”  That’s a problem in itself.  And if I know folks “across the aisle,” there are things we don’t talk about!  That, too, is a problem…

But, there it is…

As time passed, I began to see that I am somehow locked in my own thinking – my own thinking with its own definitions of “justice, truth, fairness, equality.”  But how to break out?

Often, I began to think of the current political situation as a reflection of who we are as a people.  Our elected officials are polarized because we are polarized.  And where does the polarity lie, really?  How do I surrender to this?  How do I accept this?

I don’t want to be seen as a narrow thinker!  After all, I’m a progressive, post-modern woman with a history and a sense of time and history of my own.  But – and this is also true – I am locked into my own polarized thinking.  How is that?  “I am right – they are wrong.”  “How can they think that way?”  (How can I think this way?!)  “Don’t they see what I see?”

In the inner journey, the journey that is the real journey of life, the “enemy” is only within.  If I want to be part of a movement to end the polarization so that I can also be part of what moves us forward as a people, then I have to begin by dealing with my own part of the polarization.  It’s easy enough to look at the elected officials, to say, “why don’t they reach across the aisle?”  Why, why not?

My task is to deal with the enemy within me, the one who sees things as “good, bad,” “right, wrong,”  “just/unjust.”  This goes way beyond morality.  This goes to the heart of who we are as human beings.

And “dealing with the enemy within” is no easy job.  It may be the hardest job in the world…  My freedom may lie with this job.  My own freedom, and perhaps the freedom of others.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Ah, yes, sounds good… but how, Jesus???  How do I love, how do I learn to love, how do I act to love this one enemy, within me?

More, later… the cogitating continues!  What do you think/feel/consider/reflect?

*** A good read about the way the brain works that leads to polarized thinking:                     The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,
written by Jonathon Haidt.  You can also see Jonathon on TED talks online.