“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”
So many heartfelt comments to the last post about attachment. Thank you, all.
And what a tender topic. Who among us doesn’t struggle with attachment? The holding on can be so strong, the need to have things just as we want them so overpowering. If attachment appears, we have a choice: let it control our lives or allow it to lead us on an inner journey of self-exploration. I imagine you know what I choose, so let’s peel the onion of attachment just a little more to see what we discover.
The Mechanics of Attachment
Attachment is all about being tied up and constrained. According to dictionary.com, it is “a feeling (emphasis added) that binds one to a person, thing, cause, ideal, or the like.” Other definitions describe this feeling as affection or fondness. Now, I am all in favor of affection or fondness, but when readers commented about their struggles with attachment to material possessions or their children or what other people should do, something else must be at play.
And that “something else” is fear. When we are attached, we are absolutely terrified of not being in control and of being without what we think we have. If things don’t go as we want them to, if we lose the things and people that support our identities, if we really let go of viewpoints that don’t serve us, then we are stepping out into the unknown. Instead of addressing this fear, we clamp down on ourselves and the people around us, wanting everything to stay just as it is.
Attachment and Survival
The roots of attachment run deep, and it is all about survival. As young ones, we need to attach to the people around us to get our needs met. And who doesn’t melt seeing a mother duck with her brood.
The thing is, as wonderful as survival is, being attached to it is bound to cause suffering. Because no matter how hard we try, all life forms are created with an expiration date. To state the obvious, no one has made it out of here alive.
We start by being attached to survival, to those who make our survival possible, and it continues from there. We experience a great comfort with the known and the familiar and begin to fear letting go into what we cannot know or control.
Contemplating Loss and Meeting Fear
Take attachment to possessions as an example. I have a lovely Nepali friend who came to the US with nothing and was eventually able to realize his dream of buying a home. Now he is faced with possible foreclosure, and he is desperate. He is terrified of watching everything he worked for disappear before his eyes.
What he has done is nothing short of amazing, and it has been an honor to witness his journey. But somehow his home has turned into an identity, and he fears facing the loss and whatever may come as a result. I cannot see how this attachment to his home has served him – except if he chooses to investigate it.
Whatever we are attached to – children, partners, our health, success, our identities, life itself – all of it deserves exploration if we want to know peace. Playing the “what if” game can be useful. Here are the instructions:
- Bring to mind something you fear losing.
- Imagine the loss as realistically as you can.
- Welcome whatever feelings arise and meet them with a full and loving heart.
I make a practice of this “game.” I have gone around my home, taking in all the things I enjoy and appreciate, saying, “What if this went?” I have contemplated the people I love, and considered their loss. I have imagined myself homeless, alone, and in a wheelchair. This hasn’t been easy, but meeting these fears and sorrows directly has revealed so much peace.
The unexamined fear fuels the mind with all sorts of terrifying thoughts. We scare ourselves and don’t even realize we are doing it. The truth is I have no idea what is going to happen if any of those losses actually occurs. And I have no idea how I am going to respond. Something beyond my wildest dreams could happen.
These scary thoughts are like the boogie man in the closet – they don’t have much validity or substance. When I move my attention to what is driving the thoughts, the fear is seen just as sensation, as energy. When anything is possible without restriction, nothing arrives – or departs – unexpectedly.
Investigating our attachments opens the path to a life that is authentic and real. If we bring our fears out of the shadows with a willingness to befriend them, if we contemplate the dissolution of everything we know, the heart can’t help but sing a song of gratitude. Everything could go, but reality remains – this moment – fresh, alive, and overflowing.