When I took the train into Chicago last Friday morning, it was operating about 20 minutes late due to signal delays. Despite being on a train full of people, I became aware of only one travelling companion: aggravation. I had a lot on my to-do list for the day, and Metra was apparently conspiring to thwart my plans.
That aggravation stayed with me for the rest of the day. I responded to good news with disappointment; I responded to bad news with . . . well, let's say I did not respond to it well. Instead of being normally outgoing and cheerful, I was withdrawn and morose. Instead of being optimistic, I was apocalyptic. And instead of focusing on my work, all I could think about was how much it sucked being late.
That delay didn't last 20 minutes; it lasted all day. It clung to my mood, my outlook, and my interactions with others. In short, that delay--or should I say, the aggravation I felt as a result of that delay--had become an attachment. I defined myself by what I felt--I was aggravated. But I am so much more than my thoughts and feelings, right?
An attachment is anything that prevents me from seeing the more of myself--that is, that I am made in the image and likeness of God, that I am made because of love, out of love, so that I may love. Here are four steps that might help you in identifying your attachments:
- Name your feelings. Ask yourself what you are feeling. Name it and describe it. Try to locate those feelings in your body--where in your body do you sense your feelings? How would you describe that sensation? (In my case, when I felt aggravated, I noticed I was clenching my fists.) Being honest about how you are feeling requires more than a little humility and courage.
- Accept them as they are. I do not mean approve of them; nor should you analyze them. Rather, be honest about your feelings and treat them with kindness. Acceptance brings your feelings into the open where God can transform them. When you push your feelings away--that is, when you refuse to accept them--you only give them more power over you; they become even more of an attachment.
- Reflect on the results. Ask yourself if these feelings lead you to love God and others. Are they life-giving or life-draining? This is harder than it sounds--we can trick ourselves into thinking that what is actually life-draining is life-giving. To avoid this trap, use imaginative prayer: enter into a conversation with Jesus and ask him where he thinks your feelings will lead you.
- Recall that you are made for something more. We are made to love, serve, and praise God and be people for others. Ask yourself what that looks like, and then compare that to whatever it is your feeling in the moment. This might help you determine if your feelings are moving you toward or away from God, as described above.
If we want to be people of compassion, we need to be able to see our attachments clearly and see what holds us back from living the commandment Jesus gave us to love one another. (John 13:34-35). Otherwise, our attachments will cast long shadows which conceal our suffering, and as long as we are unaware of our own suffering, we will only transmit it to others and not be bearers of the Good News.