On the Dark Side: Attachment to Outcomes

December 5, 2011

I don’t know where this truism came from, but it stays stuck to my frame like a worn out label. It goes like this. Life consists of four challenges: show up: be present; speak your truth; and don’t be attached to outcomes.

The zinger for me is in the last one—don’t be attached to outcomes.

I am such a future oriented person, off the Myers-Briggs chart on “intuition.” I love to plan and prioritize goals and dream of possibilities. I delight in casting the anchor way out in front of my boat and pull the rope in that direction. There’s good in that. Besides, it is just who I am. I can’t help it. But, as with all things good, there is a shadow side.

The dark side is attachments to outcomes. Of course, we hope for outcomes. I’m talking about our identity, our well being being attached, “nailed” to results. For instance, when I was pastor, I could be so caught up in where the church ought to go that I would miss appreciating where it was. I could be so invested in someone’s growth that I, laying aside evocative questions, would focus on where they needed to be. With regard to myself, how often my expectations, plans and goals could conveniently distract me from the messy, difficult, vulnerable present. Underneath, way down deep, I suspect attachments to results come from feelings of not being enough, not loving enough, not doing enough, not worth enough.

Wendell Berry, as he often does, gets to the deep place of loving. He describes this kind of “nonattachment to outcomes” love in his character Dorie Carlett’s relationship to forever-drunken Uncle Peach. “She had long ago given up hope for Uncle Peach. She cared for him without hope, because she had passed the place of turning back or looking back. Quietly, almost submissively, she propped herself against him, because in her fate and faith she was opposed to his ruin.”

Sometimes we love just because we have to in order to be who we are. That’s what I see in Dorie. Being true to her core self, loving, not changing Uncle Peach, is what motivated her.