Attached to Attachment
Updated: Feb 18
I was talking with a group of students a few days ago and we got onto the subject of attachment, which is considered one of the five kleshas or obstacles to enlightenment, according to yogic philosophy. The question that most of us get stumped on is this: How do we live in this world, within our complex web of relationships, hopes, goals and dreams without being attached to any of it? Wouldn't that mean disengaging from life?
At first glance, it can seem that non-attachment is a disengagement from daily life and other people. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what really removes us from the direct experience of our lives is attachment: to people, places, circumstances, outcomes, events, etc. Attachment invariably leads to suffering, which can be defined here as any time we're not ok with the way things are, which is probably most of the time. Why are we not fully accepting of life as it is? Because we're attached.
But what about attachment to loved ones? How can that be undesirable? Think about how your attachment to your loved ones conditions your behaviour towards them. You can become controlling, expecting certain outcomes; you can be possessive, jealous, judgmental, all out of a sense of attachment because you "love" this person. You're attached to them being alive so you don't want them doing anything you consider dangerous and you try to control them. You have certain preconceived notions of how partners, siblings, parents and friends should behave towards you, and if they don't meet these expectations, you're upset or again try to manipulate the situation to create your desired outcome. Does that sound like love?
When we commit to non-attachment, we begin to realize that there are no "shoulds". We allow people, places, circumstances, outcomes to be as they are. We develop a radical trust in the process of life, and in a wisdom far greater than our own: that of the Universe itself. If anything, it is a deeper engagement with the truth, with a clear view of reality, instead of our own heavily conditioned version of it. It can also be a better way to love: one that is accepting, curious, kind and forgiving.
Much of the polarization we see in public discourse today can be attributed to our attachments to certain beliefs, be they political or religious, and when we're not willing to listen to the other side (we don't necessarily need to agree), and are convinced that our view is the only correct view, then blame and shame others for their dissent, we are caught in the web of our attachments. Our view of reality is muddied by our attachments, and we then project that warped view onto other people which ties in to the root of all suffering: ignorance. We don't see reality clearly. Our itty-bitty point of view is just a small sliver of the big picture and it's blurred by layers of attachments.
So how do we begin to free ourselves? Every time you notice you're suffering, which is a non-acceptance of what is, ask yourself: "What am I attached to in this moment that is causing me to suffer?"You'll usually find an answer. Then you can ask yourself if you're willing to let go of that attachment, or do you want to continue suffering. Most will choose suffering because that's what feels familiar, or is in conformity with what we were taught or with the beliefs of our chosen tribe. Non-attachment requires the courage to move beyond accepted views and expected behaviours, to open ourselves up to a much larger view of life, one in which we realize we are an integral part of the whole, but not the centre of the Universe.