Catch-22

My attachments will be the death of me. One way or the other, they will kill me.

If I continue to cling to things that I think I cannot live without--not just material possessions and memorable experiences that give me pleasure, but also thoughts about who I am and dreams about what I may become--I will not be able to be present to the life that surrounds me. My cravings will drive me to chase after delusions about the world and my place in it, and I will be angry when the world refuses to cooperate. In short, I will continue to suffer.

On the other hand, if I can be free of these attachments--if I can see clearly and honestly how they help me best serve the greater glory of God and be willing to let go of whatever does not--then everything I thought I was, think I am, or hope to be will die as well. I will realize, just as St. Paul did, that "I don't live any longer, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)

I find this catch-22 quite depressing. I also find it unavoidable.

I'm reminded of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:39-43): 

  Crucifixion  by Hans von Tübingen(1430)

Crucifixion by Hans von Tübingen(1430)

One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us!”

But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you have any respect for God?” he said. “Remember, you are under the same sentence of death. We are being punished fairly. We are getting just what our actions call for. But this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “What I’m about to tell you is true. Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The first thief is unrepentant. Unaware of his attachments and their control over him, he ends up tempting God, trying to control God, and, in the end, mocking God. So it is with us if we fail to recognize our attachments and try to free ourselves from them.

The second thief, however, was aware of his attachments and how they made him suffer. He found freedom not in pushing his attachments away. Rather, he recognized how his attachments were the cause of his suffering. And he asked not that God take away his suffering; rather he simply asked God, "Don't forget me."

Perhaps it was his humility--his honest appraisal of the source of his suffering--that allowed him to see paradise. In his humility, he was closest to Jesus.

The only way to resolve this catch-22, then, is to imitate the repentant thief, recognize your attachments, and be honest about how they make you suffer. Easier said than done, but the following meditation may help:

  1. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Repeat this quietly, letting the words flow gently and easily with your breath. Let your mind settle and your body relax.
  2. Imagine Jesus standing next to you. You see the gentleness and compassion in his eyes. He takes your hand in his. He asks you, "What is it that you want?" How do you answer? What desires are revealed in your answer?
  3. Take an objective look at these desires. Do not label them good or bad; they are what they are. Where do these desires lead you? What do they inspire you to do or not do? Imagine fulfilling these desires. Are you left with feelings of consolation or desolation? That is, do you feel light, gentle, peaceable, kind, or joyful? Or do they leave you hard, irritated, upset, angry, and wanting for more?
  4. Imagine Jesus saying to you, "Leave these desires behind. There is only one thing you need." How does that make you feel? Is what he asking hard for you to do? Do you resist? Talk to Jesus about this, as one friend to another. What does he say to you? What do you ask of him?
  5. Close with the following prayer or one of your own: Lord, help me identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself. Help my live fresh, solid, and free, without attachment, without aversion, but only in your love. Amen.