“Non-attachment is not the elimination of desire. It is the spaciousness to allow any quality of mind, any thought or feeling, to arise without closing around it, without eliminating the pure witness of being. It is an active receptivity to life.”
Some time ago, I was speaking to a charming 92-year-old woman who was in a nursing home following a fall and faced with the probability of never returning to the home she had lived in for decades. When I asked her how she felt about this transition, with quiet strength she responded, “I’m not attached.”
She proceeded to tell me that as a young girl, following the death of her mother, she learned that being attached brought her suffering and being open to the comings and goings of life brought a sense of ease. This understanding enabled her to live life to the fullest – she had many wonderful adventures – as she was no longer afraid of what she could lose or gain. She has lived in true acceptance, and her sense of peace is palpable.
The Essence of Attachment
What does it mean to be attached? As we investigate closely, it seems to have to do with expectations. When we are attached to something – or someone – we want or need or long for circumstances to be a certain way. We want our partner to stay with us forever (or we want one to appear), we don’t want our children to grow up, we want our bodies to magically resist the reality of aging, we certainly don’t want tragedy to strike. We want things to be different, or we want them to stay the same.
Attachment carries with it the side effect of resistance. If we are attached to circumstances being a certain way, and they don’t match our wishes, we resist what is happening. Resistance looks like this: another lovely woman I know who is 88, losing her sight, barely able to walk across the room due to a failing heart, spending her days in despair wishing for her life to be the way it once was. She is attached to wanting things a certain way and is greatly resisting her present circumstances. And she is suffering tremendously.
The Reality of Life Unfolding
The truth is no matter what we want, the events of life happen, sometimes matching our desires, and sometimes not. So the question becomes: how do we meet the moments of our lives? We may not be able to control what happens, but we have the opportunity to choose how we respond.
So, consider asking yourself:
- Am I weighed down by hopes and expectations?
- Am I resisting what is actually here?
It all boils down to a simple truth: resistance brings suffering; acceptance and openness bring ease. We stop the inner war, and choose peace instead.
Letting go of attachment means receiving what is happening, without resisting. We hold our desires very lightly and stay open to what actually occurs. Even if it is the last thing we would ever want to happen.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being attached. But if we want peace, if we want to truly enjoy the moments of our lives, can we surrender into reality, as it is? Can we say, “Yes!” with an open heart capable of holding it all?
Is there any area of your life in which you are attached? How does being attached affect you and those around you? What do you imagine non-attachment would be like?
For another resource on attachment, please click here.