A feeling of affection for a person or an institution

As humans, we can’t help feeling attached to people, especially ones we love. It comes as a great shock to our emotional systems when the people we love, die. It is as if we have been severed from them with a great blade, and although it is not visible, we feel it all the same. It is like having your heart wrenched out with a screwdriver; your stomach feels in knots, and your mind doesn’t know where it is. I have never lost anyone I truly loved so you may feel that I am not in a position to discuss this with you, but let us explore it together nonetheless.

The thing is, we never really know we are attached until the bond is broken, do we? We know we love something (sorry someone) very much, but until they are taken away from us for good, we don’t know how much it is going to hurt. And suddenly the knife cuts quickly and they are cast adrift from us. The end. Finality. The moment of truth. And just like a physical cut, we feel it deeply. It’s like a part of us is missing.

We can’t explain it, but it is there with us every day, this sense of loss.

But it’s not grief as we know it. So how can we explain it?

Every day, we form attachments to the physical and the inanimate by means of which we have no words. Somehow we become “attached” to people at work, to the television, to our routine, to our bank account, our traditions, our home, our children, our partners, even to celebrities; but we don’t know it is there. An invisible thread of emotional bonding has been created. It is almost as if we are somehow giving the object of our attachment an atom of our own being and it gives us one in exchange. So now we’re kind of like blood brothers (a male sworn (usually by a ceremony involving the mingling of blood) to treat another as his brother), but there has been no ceremony. The tree of attachment has taken root And your life carries on. You are not aware of the attachment, but it is there, holding you to the object, making you feel comfortable and secure, freeing you from fear; and as the years pass by with no break in the attachment, the roots grow stronger; the mutual exchange of atoms becoming more frequent.

“Life is good” you murmur to yourself. And indeed it is. One could almost say “perfect.” The bonds are in place. Except somebody forgot to tell you that nothing is forever, except perhaps, nothing. But you don’t want to hear that. And even if someone does tell you that, there can be no fear can there? Your tree is firmly rooted into the ground and even the fiercest storm cannot uproot it.

But the break in the attachment bond is not caused by a storm, it is caused by a knife, even though it is not wielded by man’s own hand. And when it comes, it comes so suddenly, that nothing can prepare you for the consequences. The doorbell rings.

Police: Mrs Smith, I’m afraid we have some bad news for you.

Mrs smith: What is it?

Police: Your husband was killed in a car accident today. I’m terribly sorry.

Mrs smith: Oh my god!

And the knife cut deep; and it felt like she had lost a part of herself (which indeed she had, as she had willingly given the other a part of her whole in order to buy security, confidence and freedom from fear).

Thoughts started running through mrs smith’s mind, she felt sick, she felt as though she was going to faint. Her head was filled with chaos. “I just need a minute” she said.

And it cuts and it cuts

My friend peter was a successful businessman. By the age of 38, he owned a small manufacturing company making garden furniture.

Life hadn’t been easy for peter; his parents both died young, and he had to start the business with next to nothing, but now he had 50 people working for him, and he made enough money to have bought his own home outright, and had a small holiday cottage in the south of France. He may have been doing well for himself, but he didn’t rest on his laurels. He was in the factory every day before the workers, and left after them every day.

You wouldn’t call him a workaholic; let’s just say he was committed to his job. He had never married, and had enjoyed a diverse range of girlfriends over the years. He wouldn’t agree with me, but I’d say he was “married to his job!” But I used to like when he sometimes came to pick me up at the weekend in his open top sports car. I used to love how the girls would look at us as we purred along the open road, and through the high streets of the local towns. I really envied him.

Don’t get me wrong, I was doing ok on my own, but I was still employed and just got paid a regular salary every week. “You should come and work for me” he often said. “You’d get a much better salary and maybe one day you could come and pick me up in your own sports car!” “Yeah dream on” I’d say.

I wasn’t happy in my job but I had security and it paid the bills. I wasn’t flash like him. I was happy with my life, although I could have done with going out with some of the girls he was getting!

I was used to getting calls on my mobile from peter, they usually started with “Hey wassssuppp” in the style of the american beer commercial, and he normally wanted to meet up in the evening for a game of squash, or a game of pool and a beer; but when the phone rang this time, he sounded different, shaky even.

“Hi peter,” I said. “How you doing? Are we out for a beer tonight?”

“Oh, alan,” he said “I’ve really fucked up. I’ve done a really stupid thing.”

My mind raced to think what it was. Perhaps he had got one of his one night stands pregnant.

He continued. “You know I told you about that big contract in the usa?” “Yeah,” I replied, “what about it?” “It’s fallen through.”

“Oh fuck! How bad?”

“Real bad,” he said. “This was going to be a perfect deal, but now it’s sunk.”

“Oh, shit, how much are you in for?” “All of it,” he said. “I took on more staff, bought and paid for the timber already and half the stock is in the despatch bay ready to go.”

“But it’s only one contract,” I said, “surely that’s not enough to sink you?”

“I think so,” he replied. “We haven’t been doing so well recently; I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you. We’ve been making a loss for the last two years, and borrowing money, and now that the contract’s fallen through, the banks want their money back.”

“But your houses etc. they’re safe, right? I mean, it is a limited company.” I said helpfully.

“Unfortunately not. You see, the only way they would make the last loan was if I put up personal guarantees, and that included my houses.”

“But they won’t kick you out, surely? Anyway, those banks are bastards!” I said not so helpfully.

So it was. Peter lost his garden furniture business, and he lost his house, and his holiday house in the south of france. He even sold his sports car to raise money. He stopped answering my calls, but I kept on calling; he was my friend after all. But he didn’t seem keen on going out for a drink, or a game of pool any more. In fact he was becoming more reclusive by the day. Holed up in a one bedroom rented apartment in the wrong end of town.

One day I went over to see him – he looked terrible. “Don’t worry peter, you’ll get it back. You built a business before, and you were good at it.” I said.

“It’s all gone, alan. All of it. The houses and the car. I haven’t got a penny. I’m stuck in a dead end job and can barely make rent every month, I fucking hate my life.”

“If you need some money…” I offered.

“What, take money off you? Piss off; I would never take money from you?”

“Ok!” I said, “but the offer still stands.”

“What I can’t understand is how I’ll keep going,” he carried on “I mean, I’m 39 now, and I haven’t got a pot to piss in. I now work in an office pushing paper; I’ll never be able to afford another house, and I loved my car; I now I have some crappy old thing that keeps breaking down.”

“But it isn’t so bad” I said. “At least you’ve got a job; loads of people in this city are unemployed. Perhaps you should stop feeling sorry for yourself. It was only a car. And you have a roof over your head” I said, becoming a little too animated.

“What? I don’t have to listen to this shit. Get out. Don’t you understand? I lost everything. Everything! And now look at me. Get out.”

So I left. And I stopped calling eventually. I just couldn’t understand why peter had taken it so badly. He still had more than lots of other people. He had a job, he had food, and an apartment. Just because he used to have a bigger house and more money is no cause to be that bloody miserable! At least he’s got his health. And I put peter out of my mind.

Recently I came to understand what had happened. You see, there was nothing wrong with peter’s new life, just the way he thought about it. He worked in an office, he got paid, he had somewhere to live.

Some people might think that was a dream job, but no, he had become physically attached to the business, to the car, to the money, to the houses, and as he lost them, the bond was broken with the blade of the knife – bringing fear and reality rushing back to his mind. In exchange for peace of mind and security, he had given a little piece of himself to each of these objects, and they had taken up one space of his whole.

Do you understand? So instead of having 100 “atoms” of life, he now had 96 atoms of wholeness plus one of car, one of money, one of business, one of home; and the human needs 100 atoms to live life in balance.

As he gave away some of himself in exchange for these things he has been left feeling out of balance. That is why no office job, run down apartment, or old car can now satisfy him. He will not feel back in balance until the pieces that were cut so brutally from him are replaced, exactly as they were. And he will spend his whole life scouring the planet to find those pieces he lost of himself. Desperately searching and searching, tormenting himself on a fruitless journey to find the lost atoms.

Making your list

On a brighter note! There is a way out for those of you who are beginning to get depressed reading this story; but it is going to take some careful attention on your part.

You are going to have to write a list, where you start at the top with 100 atoms. Next, you are going to take away one atom for each unit of wholeness you have given away and exchanged for something material or intangible. When you have finished your list, you should end up with the number of wholeness units that have been exchanged. So if your list now equals 85, that means that there are 15 units that you have given away in exchange for something you desired, or wished for.

If you lose them, or they are taken from you, that is the shortfall you are going to have to make up; otherwise you will live a life of dissatisfaction, and constant longing until you get them back. But the knife is sharp; once it cuts, there is no going back.

Be careful what you give away of yourself in exchange for the temporary pleasure of security and freedom from fear.

Chinese (Simplified)