Episode 024: Letting Go Of Attachment And Living Your Fullest Life – with Maggie Kelly

As the mother of a child with a life-shortening illness, Maggie Kelly had two choices. She could choose to live every day grieving for him, or she could live every single day to the full. Maggie was able to reframe her difficult situation and learn to appreciate and celebrate every day that they spend together. In this episode, she talks about the power of living your fullest life, by letting go of her attachment to the outcome.


The Show Notes

Maggie, what's your story?

  • I am a mindful life coach and what that looks like is I incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my life coaching practice
  • I also own a meditation center in the San Diego area and I see clients daily, who are meditation and/or for life coaching.

Q: If you had a look back over your life and describe or define the moment that was the hardest for you, the moment that was your lowest moment what would that be? What did you do to overcome it so what would you describe as the lowest moment in your life and what did you do to overcome it?

  • I think my lowest moment was also my greatest teacher! And that was the birth of my son who was chronically ill – it was also a difficult time because the birth of a child with a chronic illness that is life shortening is a little bit of a shock when you’re not expecting it
  • It also shifted my entire picture of what his childhood would look like and my life would look like.
  • And so, what did I do to overcome it? I think after really falling into just this mode of hyperventilating through life waiting for the next shoe to drop or always expecting a hospitalisation or more trips to the doctor or what have you, I just woke up one day and said ‘you cannot live like this! You cannot continue to live like this crazy person anymore you have to get a hold of yourself.
  • I felt like I was so stressed and downtrodden and just sort of standing on the edge of some kind of cliff. I think as a parent you have a perception that you’re supposed to know how to take care of your kids and how it’s going to turn out and you just do the best you can and all will be fine and I think when you have a child that’s ill especially.
  • When you’re confronted with something like that as parent and you know nothing about it, it is a steep steep learning curve both on the medical front but also on the parental front.
  • How do I live this life, for as full as I can, for as long as I have this boy and most of us don’t worry about that when we’re going through our daily life and we don’t worry that our child’s going to die early and suffer as they go. It certainly doesn’t fit any pictures any of us have as a parent! But I really had to get a hold of myself because it was either that or live this life where I was in a constant state of flight and fight,
  • So I think that Cole’s birth was and subsequent years have been the greatest teachers for me because you asked what did I do to overcome it?
  • I remember saying ‘you got to do something differently’ and I also remember having read a book written by Deepak Chopra and where he talked a lot about meditation and all that kind of stuff and I thought maybe I should just go to one of his programmes and I didn’t realise that, the Chopra centre for wellbeing, at the time, was in my backyard here in San Diego!
  • So I put myself into one of his programme’s and every programme begins with teaching you meditation. And that’s honestly what turned me completely around!
  • It brought me into a state of presence, it brought me into realising that even though I don’t have the answers, it’s ok I’m just doing the best that I can.
  • Today’s Thursday, I’m going to do Thursday things today. So just stay in the moment, stay in the present. So that was the beginning of the journey, for me.

Q: So can you talk a bit more about that and why that differs to the way that most people live, so what does that really mean to let go of attachment to things and why is that different to the way that most people listing to this are living their lives?

  • Well I think it starts with the misperception of reality that we have a sense of happiness is derived from something out there, outside of ourselves that if we just have that particular car or those particular letters behind our name or we’re married to that particular person, we’re going to be really really happy.  What Buddhism would call suffering.
  • Where you are suffering to get somewhere, or be someone, or do something and always constantly in a state of striving and grasping and clinging.
  • When we live our lives like that we’re hooked right by the neck how to live and what we think we’re supposed to be doing and automatically living in a state of fight and flight every single day expecting more
  • Truthfully, when we look back on our lives you really have to stop and ask you know, is this all there was? My whole life was just about doing and being and having or is there something more to it?
  • It isn’t until we step back and we get still that we can actually start to connect with our innermost selves where we can ask ourselves the question ‘how am I best suited to use my gifts to serve humanity’? Why am I really here? It certainly isn’t to wake every day doing the same day over and over again. Working 51 weeks a year to take 1 week of vacation.
  • Our perception that ‘do more, be more, have more’  and everything you see, even when you turn on the television, is designed to persuade you to need something, want something, have something! And we buy into it, as a society and I think that’s the biggest downfall if we don’t wake up to that piece.

Q: So it’s the idea of pinning the fact that we could be successful or happy or feel fulfilled on a thing or on a person or on something external that actually we have very little control over and that gives us that risk I suppose, that that thing could be taken away from us or go away and sudden everything you’ve built, everything you’ve hoped for and pinned all that positivity on is kinda just gone right?

  • Yes there’s the other misperception of reality where we think that everything is permanent, like our happiness. I’m going to be happy forever and then all of sudden I’m not.
  • We think that everything we’re doing is permanent and nothing is permanent.
  • If I look at a picture of myself 10 years ago I don’t look like the same person, cos youth is starting to go, so nothing in life is permanent and when we’re attached to thinking it is.
  • Like this beautiful house I worked really hard for, if it burns down in one of the Californian wild fires, I’m going to be completely lost.
  • So if we’re living from a state of really living from our possessions and our positions, if we’re identifying ourselves from ‘I got the beautiful car, I got the amazing job and the beautiful woman on my arm and ‘I’ve made it’. If we identify ourselves with the roles we’ve played with in life, we’re going to be really really REALLY awakened as we get older.
  • I don’t want to be that 90-year-old laying on my deathbed, looking back at my life and saying ‘wow I wish I did it different. Why was I so attached to the stuff, and to the labels and to the roles that I was playing when I could’ve actually really lived my life from a place of ‘what are the greatest gifts and talents that I have’? ‘How can I be of best service, in this lifetime’?
  • I know we’re not meant to just burn ourselves out and die, that’s just not the plan.

Q: Can you give us an example of somewhere where you’ve really had to let go of the outcome of what you were doing with your life and what impact does that have on you?

  • Well let’s just go back to my son, the greatest example, the greatest teacher of my life about this topic. That look, the trajectory of cystic fibrosis is that its chronic, its progressive its life shortening and there’s no cure and over time the lungs become so damaged you either need a lung transplant or you don’t survive. That’s what it looks like.
  • The average life expectancy is about 50-something now but when my son was born in 2001 the average life expectancy was 37. So when you’re looking at new-born baby boy and you’re holding that child in your arms and you’re thinking ‘I’ve only got 37 years with this child’ oh you HAVE to find a way to grasp and to come to grips with the idea that you aren’t in charge, because I have always been this person who always feels they know the answers, I’ve got it handled, you can come to Maggie for anything and I would be your go-to girl to get handled, get it done.
  • Then this child comes along and completely shifts my perspective and my way of thinking. So I really had to surrender to not knowing, not having the answer, not being able to fix it and then being ok with that and to be able to live to allow him to grow up and live a life where he’s not watching his mother grieve him every day.
  • That was my biggest concern because when you have a chronically ill child, or someone in your life who’s dying of a terrible disease you are going through what I call, ‘living grief’! You’re going through the same stages of grieving as if that person were gone because it’s the loss of what you thought it would be, the loss of what you had and the loss of might be to come and I always say the whole thing didn’t fit my pictures and it took me a heck of a long time to wake up to this reality that ‘I’m not in charge’, its not up to me and by the way Maggie this child is on loan to you, he’s not really yours as a possession, right! He’s on loan to you and your job as his Mom is to suit up and to show up and to do the very best you can with as much time as you do have for this child.
  • And because of that I appreciate every moment more.

Q: It’s an extreme circumstance that you’re describing. What’s the difference for you in your mindset between remaining detached from something as opposed to just giving up? In other words, how do you remain committed to becoming fully present in that moment with also feeling and being able to remain detached from that outcome?

  • We were talking a little about how to let go of an attachment, especially when you’re talking about your child. It takes us back to this idea that nothing is permanent and I think until we understand that to the root, to our bare bones, then no matter what we’re going to be attached because if I’m holding onto this child, or if I’m holding onto money, or I’m holding onto a house or whatever it is, when I lose it I’m going to be devastated!
  • So this idea of being committed and not attached is really really vital, I think, for all of us!
  • When I finally got that ‘nothing is permanent, none of us gets out of this alive, and I can’t fix this’ all I can do is just accept it and live with it and be and live my life as fully as I can and to guide his to be and live as fully as he can.
  • I was holding on and I was sad, and I was angry and I was waiting for the shoe to drop and I was crazy and I was absolutely totally attached to the outcome, so it took me a while to understand this concept of committed and unattached.
  • So, be committed to the result that he’ll live to 90 right, but I’m unattached to that.
  • My intention is that he’ll live a long beautiful life and there will be a cure but that may not happen, and I also know that

Q: So, to wrap things up with this episode what would you say are the top 3 things that you would encourage our listeners to do, right now, today to start making tremendous changes in their mindset, in their life and in their happiness based specifically on what you’ve shared with us today?

  • I think one of the biggest things, if you can find it in your day, is to just STOP moving for 10 minutes every day. I don’t know what that looks like in your life but for me it looks like just sitting on the front step and allowing the sun to warm my body. Or going outside and listening to the birds, reconnect with nature in some form every single day.
  • Reminding yourself that your part of the bigger picture, you’re part of the extended universe. We get so tunnelled visioned into this idea that its all about me and I am separate from you and if I just manage my own space that everything will be fine and we forget that we’re part of the bigger picture.
  • The other thing I’d suggest is take 1 of your 5 senses each and every day. So today for example, take listening or hearing and focus on what you’re hearing during the day. Make that your little mantra throughout the day…’What am I hearing today’. And tomorrow, make it about what you’re seeing. What am seeing today? Am I seeing the gardener mowing the lawn, am I watching the birds fly, do I see kids playing at the park?
  • Just stop yourself, that’s a beautiful beautiful mindful practice, each day to have you tuned into the world around you.
  • To become more present and aware in your day to day. Insert more mindful moments into your day.
  • I’m always one to recommend mediation. If you can incorporate mediation into your day, twice a day, start to train yourself to become fully present to this moment, and this moment and this moment. You will start to wake up and that is what our world needs now more than anything.

The Quickfire Round

Q: What is the best self-development advice you have received from someone else and who is that person?

  • The best advice I was ever given was from Deepak Chopra and that was this notion that ‘you don’t need to ask me the questions, because the answers are all inside you’.
  • Mediation is a HUGE part of my success, shifting me from that angry, crazy person to someone who can fully present with whatever is going on. It’s really a steadiness, so I really think that is what mediation has provided me with.

Q: So what does success really mean to you?

  • Being fully awake and being fully present. To the lady at the grocery store, to the little old man at the crosswalk, to the birds flying overhead, to my child who’s not feeling so hot.
  • Being fully present on a daily basis with no distraction. Putting my phone down, turning my phone off and being fully present.

Q: Where can our listeners find out more about you and what you do?

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