The Little Things

I would make a terrible Buddhist.

I’m no good at non-attachment, and I’m not sure I would want to be. I get attached to all sorts of things, places and people and even teacups, and I get very sad when I have to leave, or I lose a friendship, or a teacup breaks. I should, of course, be philosophical and tell myself that all things pass away, but I can’t. I would rather feel the pain of loss and disappointment than be safe from it, in my own sensible, philosophical calm.

I’m too in love with the physical world, with the texture and experience of it: city streets, and tree bark, and oatmeal in the mornings with orange juice and a chai latte, and a vase of flowers to greet me, and twilight. Oscar Wilde once gave some very good advice, through the mouth of Lord Henry Wotton I think: “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.” I look on this as accurate medical advice, at least for problems of the soul. (I haven’t had problems of the senses — they have all been problems of the soul, soul aches. Some of us are prone to them, I think.) So when I have an ache of the soul, I go on a walk and look at the river, or have a bowl of brownies and ice cream (together), or take a bubble bath. I go to the senses.

The little things can save you. Flowers in a vase, a doily on a wooden table, a painting on a wall. A book of fairy tales. Walking by a garden, or beneath a tree.

I can’t become unattached from the world, because the world is so splendid, heart-breakingly so. And that means my heart will indeed break, probably over and over again, but the cure for heartbreak, for aching of the soul, is the world itself in all its splendor. Particularly the little things: they tend to heal more than they hurt. A vase of flowers will probably not break your heart, but it will help ease heartbreak. They are the cures for the big things, the heart-breaking things. I don’t think you can have the healing without the heartbreak, the flowers without the hurt. Non-attachment means giving up desire, and therefore also escaping from suffering. But I don’t want to give up desire, even for a skirt that swirls around my ankles as I walk. Even for a soft blanket to curl up in, or a teacup with pink roses on it. Which means that I will suffer when the teacup breaks, or the skirt wears out. All things break, all things wear out eventually. We all die.

But I don’t think you get the splendor without the suffering. And I know that you can’t make art without the suffering. There is no necessary connection between art and suffering — but I think that to make art, you have to accept the ordinary conditions of being human. Saints, who have renounced the world, are the subjects of art rather than artists.

But my main point here isn’t about art or suffering. It’s about the little things, like flowers in a vase. Make sure you pay attention to the little things, for they will save you.

Pink Flower

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4 Responses to The Little Things

  1. Jacqui says:

    You don’t have to be attached to something to find joy in it, or appreciate and enjoy its beauty. Do you really think that the Buddha ,in all his great wisdom , and wanting only happiness and freedom from suffering for all living beings, would advocate such a thing !
    Perhaps you need a deeper understanding of Buddhism before using it to illustrate a point.

    • Let me illustrate says:

      I don’t know, I think the point is illustrated eloquently. I don’t think it’s about having to, it’s more of a want. Sometimes it’s just an unconscious desire.

      Somewhere in my children’s bedroom is a Teddy Bear that I received for my 1st birthday, to which I was once very attached, and to a degree still am. I have not sen it in a decade, but if it went missing I would feel loss. I mean even in my 40’s there remains a child inside the man that still loves that bear.

      This Buddha with all his wisdom could have returned to his wife and child following his enlightenment but didn’t.

      Could you even begin to imagine that kind of King, and wow what the country could have been, had he been able to rule and practice what he preached.

      It’s often easier said than done.

  2. Yes, I know, I know…what you say is true, especially for writers, perhaps, for the little things often carry more meaning than one might think.


  3. I had the good luck to run into the wonderful writer Tillie Olsen off and on, and went to her memorial in Oakland? Berkeley? At the end of the many speeches, and songs, we learned one of her hobbies was to collect beautiful post cards. Her daughters decided to give them to all of us who came and I cherish mine, paintings of women with books, in a little shrine, where I have collected odd important things to me, sand dollars and a bit of driftwood shaped like a Madonna I picked up at the beach, other cards of Green Tara, a photograph of “Tsagaglalal,”She Who Watches, a petroglyph from a basalt rim in a Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side of the river, the shape of a leaf printed centuries ago on shale in Eastern Oregon….Two small Basts…a tin box with Athena and a hound….But the fairies dangle all around here and there. All gifts. In many ways.

    Some of the small things are gifts we receive and those we give.

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