“Is that so?” — A lesson in non-attachment

The Zen story goes:

In a mountainside village, a teenaged girl got pregnant. She was so terrified to tell her parents the truth, she told them the father was an old monk living nearby. When the child was born, the outraged parents took the baby to him and said, “This baby is yours,” and gave it to him.

monkThe monk said, “Is that so?” and took the baby.

Over the next few years he loved and cared for the child as if it were his own. The child flourished under his tender care, and he delighted having the child in his life.

Meanwhile, the child’s mother was overcome with remorse until she could not stand it. She finally admitted to her parents that her boyfriend was the child’s father, not the monk.

Her parents stormed back to the monk’s cottage. Pounding angrily on the door, when he answered they demanded, “Give us back the child. It is not yours.”

The monk responded calmly, “Is that so?” and handed over the toddler.

(Adapted from “The Woman Who Walked to Paradise” by Robert Stevens Fish.)

We could criticize the monk for not speaking up the first time. We could point out how he had no backbone and let people do whatever they wanted to him. We could berate the girl for bringing untold work onto the old monk. We could admonish her for shirking her parenting responsibilities out of cowardice. We could chastise the parents for their anger and judgment of the monk, without hearing his side of the story, then snatching away this child he’d lovingly cared for.

We could, but we won’t, as none of that is the point of the story.

As I see it, the point of the story is to strive to live, as much as possible, in non-attachment. I know, I know, this is one of those much easier to say than do kind of things. The story is over the top in non-attachment. So let’s bring it back to — of course — dating.

When you begin to like, be sweet on, or “kinda be likin’” (as my teenaged nieces would put it) a guy, it’s natural to start to become attached. It’s part of the emotional bonding that takes place in the formation of a committed relationship.

However, this attachment can go awry when you are first exploring each other. You may have emailed, talked on the phone and perhaps gone out on a few dates. You like him and he seems to like you. You begin to let yourself fall for him.

Then, poof, something happens and he’s gone. Or his formerly nice, kind, attentive behavior has become aloof. He doesn’t call as often, nor is he as complimentary. Instead of suggesting dinner out, now all he wants to do is bring pizza to your place with a DVD, knowing it will be easier to seduce you, and less expensive.

You get angry. It’s easy to do. You feel he’s led you on.

What if, instead, you said, “Is that so?” to whatever has happened. You just release him with as much compassion and kindness as you can muster. You remind yourself that you can get angry, but that doesn’t change the situation, it only raises your blood pressure, which of course, doesn’t affect him at all!

So try it. Whoever or whatever you are angry about right now, try just saying, “Is that so?” and move on. How does it feel?

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3 responses to ““Is that so?” — A lesson in non-attachment”

  1. Mitsy Avatar

    I think the above is a neat story and I appreciate the sentiments it alludes to, but if most of us were able to turn our feelings off and on in this manner, then there would be virtually no heartbreaks in the world of dating. It’s just like the person who says that they are over their ex, but deep down, they know that is not true and saying so does not make it a reality. Time heals a lot of wounds, and unfortunately, there is no shortcut in the process of grief. No one can tell you to get over something and make it happen. Simply “isn’t so”.

  2. Catie Avatar

    Although this view may seem to save pain as we go through the dating process, it will lead to psychopathology. As Mitsy alluded to above, the surface may indicate one thing, while deep down, the person is feeling another. If one suppresses it, ignores it, and moves on too quickly, it will make things harder and more complicated, not easier.
    There is no shortcut to getting over grief, whatever the loss. The best way to handle things in dating is to give yourself parameters before you date the person.
    We often fall into lust, jump into sex before we really know the person. It is ok to wait a few months to have sex with someone. The timing is different for everyone. Also, if you are the type to fall fast and hard, remember, love takes time; lust, infatuation, and wonder is fast and FEELS permanent. That period of “rose colored glasses” lasts about six months. It is later we begin to see the real person. Respect for ourselves is often forgotten when we are trying to hang onto someone as well. They seem so great at first, we hang on thinking, and hoping, our guy we fell for will return. But it isn’t to be, and talking him into it NEVER works. As soon as you notice the change, you can assess and retreat, give him space and see how he takes it, or confront him, (which he most likely will deny), or tell yourself, and him, you are worth being treated well, and move on. We learn something with each experience. Use that wisdom the next time you choose someone. If you keep repeating patterns, get some help to find out why, and soon you will have a much better chance at picking the right guy for you. This works both ways too. Good luck! CatieB, Therapist and Dater too!

  3. […] “‘Is that so?’— A lesson in non-attachment” I shared a Zen story about just accepting whatever is, without the teeth gnashing that often […]