On the Dark Side: Attachment to Outcomes

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.

5 Responses to On the Dark Side: Attachment to Outcomes

  1. Ben Wagener says:

    Hey, Mahan,
    I am there-too much there as an ENFP personality type-though not as attached as before to outcomes. Why do I feel guilty and restless at times? My eight year young adult innovative ministry is beginning to slip after such positive progress in building community for those in 20’s and 30’s. My shepherding our Wednesday night kitchen team and their steady preparing church suppers will probably soon end after 30 plus years.
    How I stop this relentless tide coming in to take away these ( my?) sand castles of attractive fellowships and study?
    Yet, I breathe today and hear these words-if I can hear these words: “I want a rested Ben.” Do your part and leave the rest to me.


  2. Joyce Hollyday says:

    Thank you, Mahan. I’m on the journey of trying to let go of outcomes, some days more successfully than others. Thank you for this heartfelt reminder.


  3. Thanks Mahan. I am so very appreciative of your guidance continuing to be available to me as I long to find my self-worth and hope for finding where I might better apply my retirement years. I know well what you mean when you say you are often looking for the possibilities while finding life rather dull dealing with the present. I must have similar Myers-Briggs results with you. I can’t be satisfied with the results of today’s results while always planning where things should/could be. Often I feel defeated because of not being able to celebrate what has been accomplished. Fire Chaplain 101 a new (501(c)3 I helped get started is a good example. Things have really gone well over its short history, but I don’t want to just be content with where we are in the present as I spend my time thinking of what we could accomplish & develop. You know how long I have been almost obsessed with developing a better equipped and trained chaplaincy to a pluralistic faith community as with the Fire Service and other emergency services. Once again, thanks so much for being available on line. Take care and be safe. Gene Moore


  4. Mary Lee Vaughan says:

    Hello Mahan, Here is a voice from the past. I have enjoyed ANAM CARA for the past several months, As an INTP I have explored many of your articles, Thanks for being there. Mary Lee Rule Vaughan


  5. Dear Mahan, I am wishing you and Janice a safe and happy new year. These days I am giving much of my time reading several selected books on spirituality as I have become less interested in “religious” issues being spread. Often being disappointed with the positions expressed and the actions taken in the name of Christianity, I am seeking my resource of “truth” searching and trusting the mystery of God’s presence within me. I feel this spiritual journey will help me focus more on the present and become less concerned over what all is accomplished. Thanks again for your guidance as my personal mentor.


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