Still Attached? How to Have an Open Mind

Note to readers: I want to take a moment and let you know how much I deeply appreciate every one of you. Each week, I am blown away by your comments – your thoughtfulness, your good intentions, your willingness to face the hard questions in your lives and celebrate your insights and realizations. Each person’s comment is a source of inspiration to everyone else who reads it. We are a true community, joined heart to heart. Thank you.


“You must choose between your attachments and happiness.”

I am not a barfly, but I was enjoying a happy hour drink last week in a lively establishment. My companion struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to him, and it was amazing to see what happened. Somehow they got on the topic of health care, and you could see her whole demeanor change. Her eyes went steely, her mouth tight, and she went off on the ills of the health care system. Obviously, he had hit a chord in her.

I saw right before me the power of holding a strong opinion
. I can only imagine what it felt like to be her in that moment.

Are Your Views Making You Suffer?

In the last two posts, we have been exploring this most essential topic of attachment. First, we saw how attachment has to do with clinging to expectations of how we want things to be. Then, we went directly into the core of the experience of attachment to befriend the underlying fear and loss. Today, we explore attachment to views, beliefs, judgments, and opinions.

Not that there is anything wrong with being attached to our views. My interest always is in happiness and freedom. If your views bring you happiness, then there is no reason to question them. But if the attachment to a certain way of thinking leaves you scared, stressed, irritated, or tense, then you are faced with a choice: hold on to your views or question them.

For most of us, our views, beliefs, judgments, and opinions run deep. Some of them are so subtle that we don’t even know they exist – until they are confronted. I will never forget the first time I arrived in Kathmandu, also my first time in Asia. For those initial hours, I was completely overwhelmed, almost unable to take in the sights, smells, and sounds that were so different from anything I had ever experienced. Prior to that time, I had no idea how entrenched some of my beliefs were.

We saw in the last post that attachment is about being bound and tied to. When we are attached to ideas, our minds are sticky. We are looking at the world through a filter that judges experience as good or bad, acceptable or not. We bring our inner edges to the flow of life that is happening regardless of our beliefs about it. And it simply doesn’t feel very good.

The Choice to Let Go

Maybe you realize that some of your views don’t serve you. They cause separation, unhappiness, and inner division. Even so, we hold on tight, not really wanting to relinquish these treasured concepts that define our reality. Maybe you think the oil spill shouldn’t have happened or that terrorists should know better.

Instead, can you let your heart break with the outrage and sorrow that is driving these views.

If your sense of dissatisfaction is great enough, if you long for lasting happiness, if you know in your heart that these beliefs don’t bring you peace, then you are ready for an authentic exploration of them.

Happiness is Not in the Thinking Mind

All of these ideas – beliefs, judgments, views, opinions, expectations – are products of the thinking mind. When we take them to be true, we are clamping down on the free flow of life. We could certainly investigate each one and discover that we are believing something that is not absolutely true, that each contains a fallacy and an equally plausible alternative.

But why not take the short cut?

Freedom cannot be found in the thinking mind. It cannot be figured out or analyzed. Anything we think is ultimately not going to take us to happiness. More thoughts, more belief systems – more thinking.

True Openness

If happiness cannot be found in our thoughts, where is it? In a completely open mind, in a mind that doesn’t cling or grasp, in a mind so relaxed and spacious that no effort is expended to think, judge, or believe. This unattached mind is totally aligned with reality. It knows no limits and excludes nothing. It is friendly, loving, and benign.

In a mind this open, beliefs, views, and opinions are like clouds in a vast sky; hoping, wishing, and expecting just dots on a panoramic landscape.

Imagine for a moment that you were not at all attached to any views or beliefs. You don’t presume anything will be a certain way. You don’t define yourself or others by any constructs. Opinions or judgments might float into your mind, but they appear and disappear effortlessly. Can you get a sense of this degree of openness? So expansive. Anything could happen, and you receive rather than react. Your heart overflows as separation comes to an end.

If you give yourself a rest and relax away from thinking, just for a moment, here are some things you might notice:

  • A feeling of expansion
  • Lightness
  • An open, tingly feeling in your heart
  • Peaceful
  • A sense of well being

In an open mind, there is no resistance to anything, nothing is out of order, nothing inappropriate or wrong. Thoughts are seen, but we don’t attach to them. They come and go of their own accord and they are not a problem when they arrive.

This is the possibility for all of us: to realize that the views, opinions, beliefs, stories we take to be true are simply phenomena that arise and pass on. Do you want to be happy? Allow your mind-heart to open endlessly.

What views do you hold closely? What does it feel like? What is it like to try to let go of beliefs and views we take for granted? I’d love to hear…

image: johnny

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  1. says

    Hi Gail,
    This is an excellent topic. Our faulty beliefs and hardened opinions will continually sting us if we insist on clinging to them. I used to think that it was evidence of power to stand firm with my opinions. The reality is that is foolish to stand firm with old opinions if they have never worked in the past. When I was a child I was taught to believe that white was superior to black and men were superior to women. It is easy to see the insanity of holding on to this opinion… but millions of people hold on to faulty opinions they were indoctrinated with.

    My greater goal is to always gain a broader perspective of myself. We can believe limiting opinions, or we can believe liberating facts, but we cannot believe both.

    • Gail Brenner says

      So beautifully said, Rob.

      Our culture teaches us to know and to believe, rather than to not know and live in wonder. If we look into what it is actually like to hold strong beliefs, we discover the insanity of it. When we tell the truth to ourselves, the loving choice becomes obvious.

      Your last sentence bears repeating: We can believe limiting opinions, or we can believe liberating facts, but we cannot believe both.

  2. Deb says

    I just wrote a long message asking why I should not hold opinions such as all people are equal and all deserve compassion. You stated we can hold opinions that make us feel good. While I hold this opinion it sometimes makes me angry that not everyone thinks the same. Then I realized the thought of equality is a good one, it never makes me angry. What makes me angry is thinking that others should feel as I do.
    What I need to do is release the opinion that my opinion is right – it might not be for everyone. I have to show the racist person as much compassion as the non-racist person. My actions might show them that they should have compassion for all, but they need to change their minds. I need to let go of the thought that others should think like me (no matter what they think), but not the thought that all are equal.
    Does this make sense?

    • Gail Brenner says

      This makes absolute sense, Deb. You continually show how open your mind is because you are so willing to not take your own thoughts for granted. It’s an honor to witness your process.

      You started with an opinion that all people are equal and all deserve compassion. And as you discovered, these are opinions only if you are attached to them. There is an essential truth in both of these if you drill down to the absolute facts: all people are equal and they do deserve compassion. These truths stem from an open and loving heart that sees the fundamental reality of everything as love.

      Then you saw that there was an attachment to these truths – that you were angry that others did not share your opinions. There is no suffering in understanding facts, but there is suffering in thinking others “should” have the same understanding. Any “should” is a clue to attachment. And once you see it, freedom from it is close at hand.

      You say, “I have to show the racist person as much compassion as the non-racist person.” This may be semantics, but I would invite you to investigate “have to.” Look into your heart, without the idea of any rules or prescriptions, to see what you actually feel moved to do or not do. In this exploration, you might find that compassion flows effortlessly – or you might discover some hidden judgments that are waiting to be liberated.

      • says

        Any “should” is a clue to attachment. And once you see it, freedom from it is close at hand.

        I am trying to erase “should” from my vocabulary – a month now. Wow, is it hard to do that. I should have known that it would be – we’ll just set that one free and see what happens next.

        Thanks for the inspiration.
        .-= occasionallyserene´s last blog ..What could you do? If you had the clarity of mind to navigate through even the most uncertain of events? =-.

        • Gail Brenner says

          Thanks so much for your comment, OS.

          It sounds like you are trying to do something hard – eliminating “shoulds.” I can certainly understand why you would want to, as they keep us locked in, like a mean schoolteacher wagging her finger at us if we don’t do something right.

          I also see where they come from – a desire to be good, right, and appropriate. They serve as a sort of guide to help us fit in and not get into trouble. I see what they are trying to do for us. But I also see how they are misguided, how they derive from fear. They come from our ideas, or someone else’s ideas, about how things are supposed to be.

          “Should” is such a common arising in the human mind, I am concerned that you will never be able to eliminate them. What you certainly can eliminate is your choice to follow them. You might find that easier, still with the desired effect! What do you think?

  3. says

    Hi Gail .. just wrote a comment & it got swallowed … & for once I hadn’t copied it ..

    I was saying that negative thoughts leave us open to being stressed all the time, creating bad energies in our body and also affecting our mind.

    If we can live in the now and realise that the future will get better and the negativity will ease .. face our challenges, then we can be happier with an open mind as you so rightly say .. Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Stirling Castle Skeletons – who are they? =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Thanks for this comment, Hilary.

      If we explore our actual experience when we think different thoughts, we can see the toll they take on us. We can take each thought and check in: How does it feel in my body? What emotions arise? Does it bring me stress or peace? This is similar to Byron Katie’s process of The Work.

      Once we have this awareness of how thoughts impact us, and we know what we really want, the letting go is virtually effortless. It is possible for negativity to ease.

      I wish you well, Hilary.

  4. says

    Thank you for this post, Gail. I find it very inspiring. I especially appreciate your suggestion that we will be happier if we let go of opinions that make us suffer. I’m still working on attachment–on the “shoulds” in my life. And this post helps me to feel that letting go is not only possible but entirely probable if I continue to have an open mind and open heart and simply let go of what makes me suffer. That thought is comforting. Thank you.
    .-= Ami Mattison´s last blog ..Inner Solitude, Or What You Absolutely Need In Order to Write =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Amy, and welcome. So glad you stopped by!

      Sounds like you got exactly what you needed from this post. It is possible to be free of our attachments, and it is also true that they can hold on tight. Regarding “shoulds,” you can ask yourself: Does it serve me? Does it make me happy? Is the thought even true? What does having this belief protect me from?

      A targeted inquiry, done with an open mind and heart, can be very revealing, and a huge support in the process of letting go.

      May your journey be a fruitful one….

  5. says

    Dear Gail. Letting go of beliefs has been really really hard and that while I honestly thought I was open minded. Yes, I was as long as it didn’t really require me to walk the talk.
    I do agree that many fixed beliefs did not serve me, they kept me employed, they kept me fearfully relating to money, I knew they didn’t serve me but letting them go????
    The trouble for me was replacing them with beliefs I could belief and most beliefs felt as bad as the ones I had, so why bother.
    It was not until I came across explanations that I *felt* rather than that they made sense. You are right, it was my feeling that made me let go of the ones that I finally saw did not make me feel good. Trusting, non attachment, love hmm, my mind still cannot make much sense of it but somehow my heart and my feelings say the world would look a lot better when these were more common beliefs.
    So it has become a lot easier to let go of the old ones that I was attached to.
    Now I do not know, but I feel somehow my way through life. I love to feel validated for that. xox Wilma
    .-= Wilma Ham´s last blog ..Do you pay attention? =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      So honest, Wilma. When we tell the truth, we see that these fixed beliefs keep us trapped and afraid. And replacing them with other beliefs might feel better, but still doesn’t completely liberate us.

      But feeling our way through, as you said? Now, that way of operating comes from a totally different place. It is about listening, it is receptive, and doesn’t impose an “I know” on life. It is so beautifully validating.

      When we move attention away from the mind to explore what else is here, a world of possibility opens up.

      Sending lots of love you way…

  6. says

    You’ve addressed such an important topic here. A lot of what makes us miserable comes from within–it’s the thoughts that we hold which leave us feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or even helpless. Detaching from circumstances and outcomes takes time, but it’s a beautiful thing to just get started on the road to emotional freedom.
    .-= Nea´s last blog ..Life’s Struggles: Who Would You be Without Them? =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      I completely agree, Nea. Just getting started is a huge, important step. It’s the beginning of a commitment that holds the potential for happiness, ease, and peace.

      Detaching almost always takes time, but every moment of presence allows us to let the troubling thoughts and feelings go. What is left? Space, peace, contentment, fulfillment. It happens one moment at a time.

      I wish you well on your path…

  7. Luke Austin L. says

    Hi Gail,
    Your words are very inspirational and influential. Thank you for giving me the answer that I have sought for so long now.
    I am 16 years old and want to straighten out my life so that I can live a peaceful life.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Luke,

      I love that you are 16 and interested in the kinds of things we converse about here at A Flourishing Life! Be like a sponge and soak it all up. Then apply what resonates to your life with great diligence. You are sure to see results.

      Wishing you profound peace and endless love…

  8. Viktor says

    This article is just what i needed. I learned openness through meditation. You still feel bad and good feelings, but your life just flows a lot smoother.


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