Wear the World Like a Loose Garment

I’m a fan of slogans. Repeating a slogan can shift your mental state in a second, active wise mind, and reinforce healthy behaviors.

In particular, I’m a fan of the slogans quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups based on its Twelve Steps. For example:

  • Live and let live.
  • Accept life on life’s terms.
  • Progress, not perfection.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Take it easy…but take it.
  • If you sit in the barber chair long enough, you’ll eventually get a haircut.

But my favorite by far:

Wear the world like a loose garment.


Beneath the folksy tone of this slogan 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.

We set goals for things to do and things to acquire, based on our desire to increase pleasure and avoid pain. 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.

Do you want to write a book that will help people create positive new outcomes in their lives? I can help you produce a finished manuscript that’s grounded in principles of adult learning and behavior change. For more information, email me at doug.toft@gmail.com

Photo by boram kim on Unsplash