Gratitude without Attachment?

I had the opportunity recently to fall in love again with the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment during an Animas Valley Institute program in Scotland. We had spent the morning unsuspectingly creating a ‘bundle’ of things that were totally unique to us as individuals. Things we were born with ~ gifts, fascinations, passions, qualities, skills even. We got ourselves a list, a sense, a clearer picture via deep imagery of what our Mytho Poetic* identity was and I, for one, was starting to feel good about that. Deeply moved and excited in fact.

Then we were instructed to go out to the land, find somewhere that both scared and allured us. Somewhere that made us feel unsafe, uncomfortable, uneasy (not physically but psychologically). Then we were to let go of our attachment to the bundle we had been gathering all morning.

Wow! Game changer! Ok, I get it……. I felt excited about this potential release of what I then realised was a burden I’d been carrying.

After some meanderings I came to a place where there was a long, deep and dark drop. It was actually both physically and psychologically scary.


I spent some time there and entered in to a conversation with the place and myself. I don’t need to share all of what happened there but I did let go of my attachment to my Mytho Poetic identity. And it was so liberating! I felt such a huge relief afterwards.

Now, this is something I have spent years crafting, honing, and praying for so in this process I realised just how much I had been grasping to it all like a linch-pin to any meaning of my existence.

I realised something else which leaves me slightly on edge ~ through my commitment to giving thanks, to always showing my appreciation to the Mystery for showing me the gifts I am here to share and, more often recently, giving me the opportunity to share them, I have become more attached to the gifts. Through the very act of saying Thank You I have unconsciously become more attached not only to the gifts but also to my sharing of them. It’s as if, by expressing my gratitude, some kind of ownership has developed. That thing has become more mine than it was.

I am left wondering how to then be in the place of gratitude without getting attached to the thing I am expressing gratitude for?

A practice ensues. A new way of being with my soul identity, the thread I was born to live, and giving thanks for that without any expectation that it will remain that way, or that it in some way has a hallmark on it (despite the Mystery – in it’s imaginal, not-too-straight-forward-kind-of-way – telling me that it has just that). Not only that, but if I am to adhere to the Buddhist way (and I would wish to follow their lead on this one – goodness knows they’ve done the research!) then I would want to look into my relationship to myself as an entity. To imagine that I am those gifts and to identify with this being called Rebecca in such a strong way is to miss out on the gift of their teachings on Emptiness: that nothing in and of itself exists. And the only real way of realising Emptiness (without having a rare, one-off enlightment experience) is to meditate. A lot.

I used to do this and I am willing to do this again – longing to in fact. And yet, I am curious to find out if it is possible to offer thanks and hold the awareness that I am not actually my Mytho Poetic identity. Indeed, that there is no identity whatsoever. Boom! Give thanks with a quality of lightness. Notice how I am offering the gratitude – do I want more? Is there a stuck, slightly tight feeling around the thanks? Does it feel like I am trying to own what I am thankful for?

Well, that’s the best I can do. For now. And some day soon I will be sitting back on the cushion, eyes closed, breathing in, breathing out, until that is all there is. No me, no identity, no thing. Just an immense gratitude.

*the term Mytho Poetic was coined by Daniel Deardorff in his book ‘The Other Within: The Genius of Deformity in myth, culture and psyche’ and eludes to the part of each of us that is the completely unique creative expression of soul.


I leave you with the glorious poem by William Stafford named The Way It Is ~
There is a thread that you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder what it is you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.