This is a story about attachment and how it can get in the way of our happiness…
One of my favorite places for a weekend getaway is Big Sur, an area along the California Coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. The 70-mile coastal drive is winding and breathtakingly beautiful. On a sunny day, the combination of colors from the ocean, sky, and rugged mountains is picture-worthy at every turn.
So, in 2016, when, after we had been dating for one month, Matthew invited me to go to Big Sur with him for Valentine’s Day weekend, I was thrilled.
But I was also feeling a bit of trepidation…
You see, there are only a handful of places to stay along this mostly undeveloped stretch. And I feel privileged to say that my previous Big Sur getaways had been in elegant rooms with balconies that overlooked the extraordinary coastline – and had an extraordinary price tag to match.
But those stays happened between 1998 – 2008, with my former husband, when money was abundant, and when I took our lifestyle for granted.
When the great recession of 2008 blew up our real estate portfolio, our marriage, and depleted our bank accounts, it humbled me and challenged my beliefs about who I was and what mattered in life.
As I explored all of this through my life story writing journey, I began to finally “get it”:
- Happiness is an inside job.
- An elegant room doesn’t ensure an elegant experience.
- Letting go of attachment to how I think things “should” be opens me up to new possibilities.
And even though I understood all of that intellectually, having had a taste of Big Sur luxury caused me to long for it again.
Letting go of expectations
Now, Matthew didn’t know where I’d stayed on my previous visits to Big Sur. He only knew that I loved it there. And from what he had told me about his life, I knew his idea of a great getaway was setting up a tent in a campground. To him, any place with a bed, roof, and private bathroom was luxury in comparison.
Because he hadn’t shared where we’d be staying, I wondered, How will I react if his choice doesn’t meet my expectations? I felt ashamed for not being fully in gratitude for his invitation, and I judged myself mercilessly for spending a single moment thinking about this “first world” problem. But I still wondered.
When we entered our room, I immediately felt disappointed. It had the basics: a bed, minifridge, and small deck facing the forest. But the added features I had come to enjoy – ocean view, fireplace, upscale romantic decor – were all missing.
Forgetting that I had told myself to drop expectations, my first reaction was fear. Is this a warning sign? Does this man have an aversion to luxury, or worse yet, is he not able to afford it? Is this an indication that life with him would be lackluster?
Fortunately, I kept my fears and judgments to myself. New love sees the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and I was able to surrender to the moment and respond with grace and gratitude. I’ve been with men who put on a fancy show in the beginning only to discover it’s all an act. This guy had already shown me plenty of signs that he was the real deal.
Creating a quality experience
Matthew had brought candles, which created our own ambiance in the room. He lit sage and led us in a ritual to set our intentions for the weekend. He had brought wine and appetizers, and we stayed put that evening rather than venture out for dinner. And even though he was a beginner, he played his guitar for me, keeping his eyes glued to the words on the sheet music most of the time, with an occasional glance my way. My heart melted over his willingness to be vulnerable and imperfect.
When we woke up the next day, I noticed the room was starting to grow on me. We had breakfast in the lodge restaurant and then took off for a rigorous, midday hike. Later, we found a viewpoint along the coast road where we set up camp chairs, enjoyed the gorgeous ocean view, and waited for the sun to set. We intended to be there only until sunset, but minutes turned into hours, sunset turned into night, and before we knew it, we were wrapped in blankets, talking and future-tripping under a starlit sky.
By the end of the weekend, I had had it all – the ambiance, the ocean views, the romance. They weren’t bundled in the package I previously believed defined a perfect experience. The weekend had been a true test of my commitment to find pleasure in the small things, to focus on how much I have to be grateful for and to not be attached to life unfolding in a specific way.
Since that first getaway, we have returned to Big Sur several times. In fact, last year, I treated us to a weekend in one of the fancy places. And this Valentine’s Day, Matthew took me back to the same place we had spent Valentine’s Day six years earlier.
When we returned to his preferred Big Sur lodging, did I experience the same longing for the elegance missing in the décor of the rooms there? Yes. The material girl in me hasn’t completely died. But what she understands now, which she didn’t get before, is that 1) there’s more than one way to get what you want, and 2) the quality of your experience is more about the quality of your state of mind than the quality of your surroundings.
With that in mind, I have some questions for you…
- Do you ever find yourself unhappy because an experience doesn’t meet your expectations?
- Do you ever long for something from the past that is not available to you now?
- Or, do you ever spend time worrying about something in the future that you can’t control?
In those times, what’s likely going on is that you aren’t allowing yourself to live in the present moment. You may be missing the opportunities that are right in front of you. Your emotions are likely caught in the past, or you may be looking outside yourself to fill a void in your life. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Does it strike you as odd that a life story writing guide would be dissuading you from focusing on your past? Hear me out.
This is the key…
It’s easier to be present and in the moment when we have made peace with the past.
Revisiting memories with INTENTION is where the opportunities for self-discovery and healing lie. And writing your life stories provides those insights.
Here’s an exercise for you:
Grab a notebook and, without thinking about it too much, jot down three recent disappointments. The first disappointments that come to mind. Now, spend some time with each disappointment you listed.
Ask yourself, “What got in the way?”
Was it expectations, your unwillingness to do something new or different, or outside your comfort zone?
And let us know how it goes by emailing us or sharing your experience in the comments below.
What I learned from the 3 disappointments I wrote about is:
Accept what is as you lose every time you don’t.
I’ll add accept what is or what you are concerned will happen if your expectation is dashed…and make another plan if “worst case scenario” does happen.
Thanks for trying the disappointments exercise, Jane! I agree: We lose every time we can’t find a way to accept what is. And I do think some personalities do better when they have a Plan B in their back pocket when disappointment shows up.