Via Basel: On Letting Go—The End
In a few weeks we will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817). An American icon, philosopher, poet, and lover of the wild, this is what he said: “for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” For me in part this means letting go of our desires to conquer, develop, and transform our natural and pristine habitats to serve our selfish and never-ending needs. I love the outdoors and have hiked some of the most magnificent mountain ranges on this planet. It makes me sick to see the current trends to reverse policies of previous administrations to protect National Parks, monuments, and wild life. In my last post I said I would tell you more about letting go, and I plan to deliver. It appears that our attachment to material gain prevents us from leaving alone some of what is sacred and wild. If we can’t restrain ourselves from exploiting Mother Earth, we will cause irreversible harm to ourselves personally and collectively to our beloved planet.
Addictions to drugs, alcohol, and medications, as well as material possessions, are in the news most of the time with articles, essays, and books written on these subjects that can fill many libraries, so I will limit myself to only two more from my life experiences before I conclude.
In my practice as a medical doctor, I have found that over-consumption of foods, especially unhealthy ones, with consequences of obesity and major illnesses, is the most ubiquitous addiction we are facing. It used to be an American issue but is now global, and the statistics are alarming. Yes, it is an addiction, and most have difficulty acknowledging it. It is also multifactorial and some are more susceptible than others. Unlike substance abuse, abstaining is not the answer since we need essential nourishment. In my opinion, food attachment is therefore more difficult to control, and I profess that I am not an expert, nor do I have the perfect solution. However, acknowledging food addiction, taking small gradual steps toward adjusting the quality and quantity of food, as well as mindful eating would be a good beginning.
The next attachment may be even more controversial and problematic to many, and that is to our fellow human beings, most notably the ones closest to us. Perhaps there is no stronger bond than between parent and child, since this is universal in the animal kingdom and to a certain degree genetically encoded in us for the survival of each species. Here we notice how difficult it is to let go of our kids as they grow and mature, whether leaving for college, or choosing a career or a mate. We have a problem allowing them to make their own decisions and even their own mistakes, because we think we can shield them forever. I have been as guilty of this as anybody else. We confuse neediness and attachment on our part with love. Yes, you can love somebody and not be attached. Even a mate.
Kahlil Gibran, another great poet, said it best in The Prophet:
And stand together yet not too near together
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Thus the separation between us is just as important as the love that binds us.
These attachments and many others are but a preview to the biggest of all, the attachment to life itself. Unless we start preparing for death early, learning to let go little by little along the way, we will suffer and cause suffering to others.
The final letting go after a life full of varied experiences, surrounded by loved ones, can be a beautiful thing.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Chris Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.