Wear the World Like a Loose Garment

“Wear the world like a loose garment.”

It’s a popular slogan among members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups based on the Twelve Steps of AA. Beneath its folksy tone is a profound practice that crosses the world’s spiritual traditions—living without attachment.

According to the Bible, Jesus counseled us to be in the world and not of it.

“A skillful traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving,” says the Tao te Ching.

“There is a good attitude to take towards any goal,” notes Thaddeus Golas in The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment. “It’s nice if it happens, nice if it doesn’t.”

In other words, “wear the world like a loose garment.”

This message is noticeably lacking in the mainstream self-help literature. Instead, we’re pummeled with directions for setting goals and achieving them. Then we’ll be complete. Then we’ll be happy.

But goals come without guarantees. And, as Daniel Gilbert points out in Stumbling On Happiness, we are notoriously poor at predicting what will make us feel good in the future.

There is another option—to live without attachment.

I know this sounds strange—perhaps even unloving. That’s because we use the word attachment as a synonym for caring about people and projects.

In reality, what the spiritual teachers mean by an attachment is much closer to our notion of a requirement. When we’re attached to something, it means that we require it. In order to be OK, we might believe that we:

  • have to be married to a certain person
  • have to raise children
  • have to land a certain job
  • have to make a certain amount of money, or. . . .

The possibilities are endless. Human beings can attached to almost anything.

What would be it be like to wake up in the morning and have no requirements? Perhaps this is what the spiritual masters meant by living without attachment.

This does not mean being unloving. In fact, we might be more loving when we don’t require other people to rigidly conform to our expectations.

Nor does this mean being inactive. We can still participate in the world, and even work hard, while living without attachment. The key is to discover the rewards that are inherent in a task and let go of the ultimate result—which is usually beyond our control anyway.

“Do everything with a mind that lets go,” said meditation teacher Ajahn Chah. “Don’t accept praise or gain or anything else. If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.”

That’s the benefit of wearing the world like a loose garment.

Image by marc0047, Flickr Creative Commons

10 thoughts on “Wear the World Like a Loose Garment”

  1. This is all wrong because it’s missing the most important piece. Truth. Humans were made to be attached, and that’s why we end up attached to something, like a car or a person or other “requirements” people have. But, these things are all temporary, and change, and our hearts and eyes are never satisfied … those of you who have ears, hear … you don’t get Complete peace by completely DEtaching to things and people (that are enherently flawed, waivering, and in a constant state of decay); you get complete peace by completely Attaching to the One who never waivers or bends; never changes or decays. The Lord God is His name. He is a Rock, a sure foundation for those who put their trust in Him. Change your mind, and belive this good news. When completely attached to Him, all things loose the value they once had in your mind, and you become aware that nothing is worth holding on to, except holding on to Him. Anyone who loves the world or the things in the world does not have the love of God in them. I write these things that you may believe in the name of the Son of God. The Christ, Jesus. And that by believing, you may have everlasting life in His name. Learn of Him. May the grace of God be with you. Amen.


  2. If you don’t figger out how to do this, you will become a control freak. Living outside is a drag. The Kingdom is within. God wants you to have things, He don’t want things to have you. A Master is always in his natural state, calm, peaceful and bright, just by knowing how things are. He has no wants, no desires and therefore no expectations. When people have expectations and they do not allign with reality, they automatically suffer. If your an addict you need to learn how to achieve peace of mind and how to keep it because peace of mind feels good and we like to feel good. Otherwise we buy feelings and that will not work anymore.


  3. Hi jude:

    Your comment is relevant and valid, of course.

    First of all, you’re not suffering! That’s the most important thing.

    Also, I am not using the word “attached” as a synonym for “being committed to” or “caring deeply” about a project, possession, or person. Attachment in the Buddhist sense means that I believe a project, possession, or person is an ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENT—a life-and-death matter or bedrock of personal identity.

    You can care deeply about your lit review and get it done and not be attached in the latter way. You will still be jude and be OK even if you don’t get it done.


  4. Ahhh such a challenging concept for me. I loved going on a recent road trip with few expectations. Open to adventure. Open to boredom, if that’s what came. Boredom did not come. It was exhilarating, every moment new. But then there’s the lit review I’m writing and the very real deadline. It is not writing itself. It is a temporal, worldly world that impinges on me, but I have chosen to let it. I am attached to finishing. Without that attachment I don’t think I would finish. I don’t experience this attachment as suffering. I am puzzled.


  5. We sure do have a lot of “have to”s to be okay, don’t we? It’s liberating to see them clearly and let them float away like a feather in a warm wind.


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