Retirement and psychological baggage - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Retirement and psychological baggage

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Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:29 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Psychological baggage is often mentioned when describing our journey through life, and is frequently identified as being the root cause of many human difficulties, especially after retirement.

The more mental clutter gathered along the way that we become attached to, the greater the odds that we'll suffer from lugging it around. The obvious resolution is breaking free by setting the mental luggage down, releasing our psychological grip, and moving on. Naturally, that's easier said than done.

Our cranial luggage comes in all shapes and sizes; possibly a career-related situation, a relationship issue, or a retirement decision. Regardless of what it is, it's teamed with a thought, and this mental concoction forms our perception of the world.

Being attached to a certain situation, a former career position for example, we cling to some configuration of ideas about that job situation and fabricate reasons why we need these recollections to be happy. Other common mindsets concern money and potential areas of interest after leaving the workplace, and the outcomes are tied to the thoughts we project onto them.

The apparent solution is detaching from our former life and starting anew after retirement, but that's problematical for many folks. Our life, or a significant part of it, came as a direct result of what we did for a living. Retirement is a mere snippet of time compared to our working life, and, for some, a significant letdown.

Understandably, complete detachment from the world isn't the only alternative to having attachment to it. The word detachment is often perceived as a state of being disconnected from the material, external world and ignoring it totally. While that may give the appearance of being a safe haven for daily living, it's actually a transitory phase between attachment and reality which is non-attachment. Consider detachment as being static, and non-attachment as dynamic.

During non-attachment we may participate in the world and remain engaged. Conversely, detachment is withdrawal and isolation. The mental image often formed regarding abandonment of attachment is uncaring and cold. Another misconception about releasing attachment is that it promotes insensitivity and uncaring. Both are invalid.

Understanding the root cause of attachment requires viewing the nature and critical involvement of the ego. Simply stated, it's the mind's identification with form, always seeking to attract more. The ego strives for survival using partiality for worldly, often material accessories. Typical manifestations are attachment to objects symbolizing forms of status within society. Another attachment concerns other peoples' opinions about our actions, thereby seeking approval and validation.

Alternatively, there can be attachment to a negative judgment, such as becoming offended and embracing resentment. Each attachment may tether us and cause unnecessary, self-inflicted suffering.

The quirky ego is interested in attaching to what it perceives as positive things, and also has a penchant for attachments to feelings of being offended and victimized and clinging to painful thoughts and negativity because these necessitate control. The ego is energized on guilt and suffering and confirmed by causing us pain.

Happiness involves eliminating these burdens. A valid starting point is the attachment to promising things; releasing obligations causes the negative attachments to dissolve on their own initiative.

Devising a disposable perspective proves helpful. Releasing attachment requires us to see every object, situation and thought as disposable. This may sound insensitive, pessimistic, defeatist, and outright undoable, but viewing everything as disposable is liberating.

Viewing everything as disposable frees us to jettison it, especially burdensome things. Don't donate everything you own, terminate all relationships and friendships, and live in desolate isolation. Simply assume a mental preparedness to release whatever you might have or expect to have, view material things as objects, and begin traversing the world with an attitude of casual non-attachment. Example: Winning the lottery is non-attachment; you could give it up. Caution: If you can't release it, you're attached to it. Even trivial attachments may cause suffering.

Personal freedom is residing within us without reliance on people, places or things as safe havens. This mindset purges the urge to cling to everything encountered in life, thus allowing us simply to be. Seeing things as disposable squelches the ego's drive to fabricate illusionary dreams of future escape.

For one week, consciously jettison your psychological baggage and notice how free you feel as a result of letting it go. You may be surprised to discover how much psychological weight you've been lugging around for years. I discarded some psychological weight while preparing this column.

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