I sometimes wonder if I should start a group called Attachments Anonymous. In my Zen practice and in my daily life, I struggle with it all the time. In my monkey mind, I can see myself standing before a group of people I don’t know and letting it all hang out.
Me: “My name is Michele, and I’m an attachmentholic.”
Group: “Hi, Michele!”
And I would go on to tell them my story, which goes something like this:
I have a longstanding problem with attachment to positional power. Never mind that I have plenty of personal power, in my personality and in my personal life; it never seems to be enough. I always have a longing for positions that put me in power over others.
Recently, in my workplace, I overheard two people in supervisory positions talking about another supervisor possibly leaving.
One of the two mentioned that a certain person was going to put in for the opening when it occurred. The other, realizing that I was well within earshot of the conversation and knowing I was interested in promotion, immediately turned to me and said, “Please tell me you’re applying. I would rather have you as my assistant.”
I paused for a second, because I knew she knew what my answer was. When the other supervisor turned to face me, I said I was definitely putting in for the opening if it became available. She said I’d have her vote if she had any say in the matter. With my knowledge of the chain of command structure and the way this type of thing is usually decided, I was certain that she would have some say.
Suddenly, I got that familiar old feeling in my gut – the one that lets you know you’re the front-runner, the one that lets you get a little bit cocky if you don’t check it right away.
I’m the most experienced out of the contenders, I realized, and definitely the most qualified. Surely anyone could see that. I was on my way up! Finally! Who wouldn’t want me around? I’m strong and capable and articulate, able to make life-or-death decisions without hesitation. I’ve got this one licked for sure.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself being taken to task for my behavior toward my co-workers. Surely this couldn’t be happening to me, the golden child.
I protested and I whined as much as I thought I could get away with. Frankly, my attitude reeked of eau de holier-than-thou. I see that now. But at the time, all I could think about was that their perception that I couldn’t take criticism would cost me my coveted promotion.
There’s attachment, rearing its ugly head. I was so wrapped up in having that stupid promotion that I couldn’t think straight. Instead of reacting calmly and rationally to a request for a minor correction in my behavior, I played the diva and became impossible to negotiate with.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how lonely it is up there in the ivory tower.
The conversation ended with me going back to the work floor and physically isolating myself from the rest of my shiftmates. I was so upset that I didn’t speak unless spoken to for the rest of the day, and even then my responses were terse – one or two words, if I could get away with saying that little. That’s difficult to do in a profession where one talks for a living, but somehow I managed it.
I used to think of attachment as being too reliant on things or people to practice effectively.
Now, in hindsight after one uncomfortable meeting with supervisors in a Christian-dominated workplace, I realize that one can become too attached to one’s own self-image, or the image one believes one has with others. It was a rude awakening, as I’ve long considered myself to be the anthesis of image consciousness. Because I so desperately wanted someone’s approval, I allowed myself to become what I despised and got attached to it in the process.
I may be intellectually evolved, but clearly my spiritual evolution needs some work.
I’ll probably still get that promotion, but at least I know now that to truly excel at it, I’ve got to release my attachment to caring about what others think of me and instead focus on caring about them without becoming attached to that. It’s a lofty goal, but I’m ready to come back down to Earth now and give it a try.