Of all the main spiritual traditions, Buddhism probably focuses the most on attachment.
Attachment is the central theme of the Four Noble Truths which lie at the heart of Buddhism.
Life is imbued with difficulties and suffering
The cause of suffering is attachment
Freedom from attachment brings freedom from suffering
Freedom from attachment and suffering can come from the Eight-Fold Path , which centres on ethics, wisdom and meditation.
I am not a Buddhist, however as a spiritual tradition, I feel it is possibly the most practical as it provides a clear understanding of the egoic mind (which is what stands between us and knowing ourselves as spiritual beings), and also gives very clear direction on how to get out of suffering. Isn’t that what we all want? – to not suffer and be happy?.
So, the Buddha says that the cause of suffering is attachment, and freedom from attachment brings freedom from suffering. Makes sense right? From my experiences, I have found this to be very true, and you have probably noticed that I constantly return to the notion that all suffering originates in the mind, and the way out of suffering is to not resist what is. This is just a different way of saying don’t hold on to ideas of what or how things should be so tightly that you resist what is happening right now. In other words, let go of attachments.
It sounds simple – but it’s not so easy to do.
Our mind loves attachments. It is a big part of its construct. We form attachments for things our minds have decided will bring us happiness. So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with seeking happiness – we all want that, and rightly so. The problem arises because the foundations of our attachments are mostly established when we are young and have little to no discernment about what is really going to bring us happiness. Adding to the problem, the attachments are often born out of our pain. Born out of need. That is never going to end well. We develop attachments not only to people and material things, but we also develop attachments to ways of thinking, beliefs and feelings.
The extreme form of attachment is addiction. A very painful state of uncontrollable need for something. Often causing severe suffering. I have an addiction to sugar. My sub conscious mind strongly associates it with being happy. I love it, and I eat it even knowing it is bad for me. I really struggle to stop. It has a power over me that seems stronger than my conscious will. That is an addiction.
Many attachments seem valid and worthy. For instance attachment to our spouse or children, our career, world peace. Others are not so innocuous – an attachment to being right, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, power, etc. All attachments will cause suffering however because if we lose whatever we are attached to we will be unhappy. Ranging from mildly unhappy to devastated depending on how much our mind believes we need that object/person to make us happy.
You may be getting annoyed at me and saying “of course I have an attachment to my husband or my children – what sort of mother or wife would I be without that attachment. Indeed. What sort of mother or wife would you be? One who was capable of loving your husband and your children with unconditional love.
You see, attachment creates conditions of the “must” variety.
you, child/spouse must stay with me for me to be happy
you, child/spouse must behave in a certain way for me to be happy
you must fit into my image of how you should be for me to be happy
if you die I cannot be happy
the world must be a certain way for me to be happy
everyone else must act in a certain way for me to be happy
if I lose my house, I cannot be happy
if I lose my car I cannot be happy
if I lose my looks I cannot be happy
the list is endless – so much potential for unhappiness…
To release ourselves from attachments allows us a deeper capacity to love without conditions. It allows us to accept life as it is without being devastated when things and people we love leave our lives. It allows us to live more fearlessly because we no longer fear loss. It allows us to accept change. So much more potential for happiness…
Living without attachment is not about not caring. On the contrary. When we know we don’t need something, we can let it go without suffering.
I am going to risk making myself very unpopular here and say that grief is an expression of attachment. I’m not talking about sadness or missing someone or something. I am talking about grief that is overwhelming and causes suffering. This sort of grief is grounded in attachment and need, and possibly un-supportive beliefs about life after death.
Our mind thinks it needs many things, so it forms attachments and desperately tries to hold onto them. Our soul knows we have everything we need and holds everything gently.
When our life is threatened by disease, the tendency is to tighten our grip, desperately holding onto it (life). Our mind’s greatest attachment is to physical life and this can bring us much suffering. In actual fact the best thing we can do is let go, surrender to what is, let our attachment to physical life at all costs go and surrender to the peace that follows. This does not mean curling up our toes and dying. Not at all. Done properly, it creates a greater space for healing to occur because fear has gone. It creates a larger space for loving and really living life because fear has gone and left a space that is filled instead with love and gratitude and awe.
Freedom from attachment brings freedom from suffering. The first step to freedom from attachment is developing an awareness of what we are attached to and examining our motives. Why do we think we need that person, thing? Can we come to a place of willingness to let it go? If not, why not? The best way to do this is to write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.
The less attachments we have, the lighter we feel and the greater our capacity to love without conditions.