I think that when we consider undertaking a new philosophy or approach, we always jump to the extreme case to see if it will pan out in the long run. If we’re contemplating going keto, we immediately think “but what if I’m at my best friend’s wedding — would I eat the cake??”. If we are pondering lowering out carbon footprint, we think “but if my family member were dying across the continent, would I fly to them?”. And similarly, when we think about becoming Buddhist and letting go of all attachments, we think “so am I meant to not love my children? Am I meant to let go of my parents? Should I not be sad if my cat dies?”
This technique is “optimising for the corner case”: we plan our lives around situations that will barely ever happen, if they even happen at all. We fail to take moderate action, because of fear of what our technique would look like at the extremes. This is a logical fallacy: plan for the typical case. What happens at the edges doesn’t really matter that much in the long run!
So rather than thinking about what letting go of attachment looks like in the extremes, think about what it looks like in the norms. What does letting go look like while driving to work? While making breakfast? While playing with your child? While talking to your spouse? Maybe you need to let go of expectations for your teenager (let go of the expectation that they will be organised, for instance). Maybe you need to let go of your expectations for your ageing parents. Maybe you need to let go of your expectations for yourself! You can’t be perfect. Let go of the image of yourself as a superhero. Just let go of that tiny thing, a million times a day.
The upside here is that letting go of these normal clingings will mean you’re in better emotional shape when the weird situations come up. If you have not been berating your teenager for being airy fairy for the last few months, they may be more present and supportive if your parent dies. If you have not been beating yourself up about not being perfect, you may be more able to handle it if something happens to your child that you need full mental presence to deal with. These micro-clingings (fury at others over not making a light, or getting cut off in the Starbucks line up, or fury at ourselves for forgetting things, or cutting someone else off in traffic (stupid! stupid!)) are exhausting! You need energy to deal with difficulties — but you won’t have it if you’ve clung to tiny injuries.
So let go of the little, normal things. Start local. Don’t worry about the edges – they will work out fine.