How do your attachments serve you and how do they burden you?
My source of misery was not walking away soon enough aka. attachment. But if your intuition is perfectly honed, you will never be attached to anything – like a monk.
This was a truth I discovered while on a silent meditation retreat, one of the most gruelling and enlightening experiences I have ever endeavoured.
We all become attached to things, whether it is material possessions, thoughts and ideas, people or animals or aspects of people or animals.
The attachments become a place of comfort for us, when we are not ready to face change. Whether you are clearing out your house and unsure whether to throw out your old books and CD's because they served you so well and evoked so many feelings, or whether you are struggling to end a relationship because your partner is not serving you as you desire, yet you are holding on to objects within them that helped you connect in the first place.
We have a tendency to misplace our attachments or acknowledge the fact that they are preventing our growth and development.
When I was on Vipassana the meditation retreat, I became attached to a process that was no longer serving me, ironically a process that removes worldly attachments. I was attached to the idea of completing this 10 day process, the idea of leaving with a lighter feeling and having some further insights into myself. These were expectations, and while they may have been met in one sense, they were in no way as predicted and it was a real struggle to come to terms with the experience over expectation.
That is why it is hard for me to get off coffee, because the addiction to caffeine is a physical attachment that provides comfort, or why some people become addicted to seemingly positive attachments like the gym or diet. What once was a difficult endeavour to involve themselves in has now become a place of comfort and a reliance is born.
Attachments have a lifespan. Who knows how long they can last but one thing is for certain, the misery is when the attachment ends. This is why it takes years to overcome the loss of a loved one or only a few seconds to get over that cute girl you exchanged a look with in the bar. This is why one blissful meditation experience can lead to disappointment when not followed by an equally blissful or more experience.
The same goes for leaving partners in previous relationships. You create so many positive attachments, that it becomes so painful to detach from the relationship, yet even if the few negative attachments are harming your growth you know you must remove these attachments irrespective of the positive attachments. Removing the attachments doesn't necessarily mean ending the relationship, it may be re-framing the attachment in your mind or having a series of difficult conversations with your partner.
This is why some people struggle to find a partner under the guise of fear of commitment, when it is in fact fear of attachment and the suffering that comes with it, particularly if they have been through the emotional turmoil of ending relationships.
That is why we sometimes feel somewhat detached from my loving family and friends. There is a sense of loneliness in this world, being born into a world where you have no connection to the collective consciousness in your single avatar and your first connection with your parents teaches you that while you're a triad, they also have a connection that you're excluded from.
I guess this is why Buddhist monks are required to rid themselves of worldly possessions and why hoarders can’t bear the pain of loss, usually related to loss of a loved one. What is the difference in practice besides the polar opposite ends of the spectrum? The question to ask then is where is the balance? The answer? The balance is ever shifting and ever evolving.
Cashing out your investment
You become attached to something because of an investment in it. It may be 3 years in an undergrad degree before you learn you want to do something completely unrelated and have invested all that time, money, energy and expectation only to have a change of heart. For some it may be committing to a masters degree, a phd and 10 years slog up the corporate ladder before the change of heart.
It may be as innocuous as committing to social arrangements, be it a night out or a holiday, which you are not only invested in in terms of finance and time, but your conscience of others being invested in you, only to have a last minute change of heart.
We don’t say No enough. Forget your investments, forget your expectations, how do you feel right now? But what if….no.
This is how I felt about Vipassana. Being invested in something that I committed to months beforehand, yet I remained apprehensive every time the process was mentioned. There are cues and markers all around us, which are projections to our inner truth. Pay attention to them intuitively. You won’t get it right every time, but you’ll notice when you get it wrong.
Because the focus has been centred around a certain goal, there is a tendency to not appreciate the 'peripheral' lessons learned along the journey. Even if you pack in a relationship or career after so many years, thinking about the 'wasted' investment of a significant portion of your life. It is only wasted in the mind-frame of being attached to an expectation, and not appreciating the lessons along the way, the biggest of which is that you no longer belong in that space.
Honing your practise
I would like to apply this idea to dieting. I won’t bore you with how many diets are available and no two people have the same results from the same diet. The whole concept of a diet is to limit the food you eat, usually either in quantity or variety. But in doing so you have formed a negative attachment to the food you can’t eat, but an attachment nonetheless. It stays in your mind everyday as an object that you’re avoiding yet still craving. This is a very mild self-imposed form of torture.
The diet should be to form an attachment to a healthy lifestyle, but the only way to appreciate this is to first lead an unhealthy lifestyle and become aware of how it is affecting you. Yes, you can see that you’re getting a bit fat around the waist or you lack motivation to go to the gym, and you can choose whether to work to rid yourself of these negative attachments or feed the attachments through blaming other things in your life on these. This is analogous to recognising negative character traits in your partner and deciding that your beloved is all bad, rather than trying to work on only the negative attachments to them.
If you can't sleep at night due to imbibing too much caffeine, you wouldn't think to cut out coffee entirely, but merely to stop drinking caffeinated after say 3pm.
Practising non-attachment is essential to ending suffering, but don’t avoid attachment out of fear. The road which attachment leads down is the joy of life, but be selfish in ridding yourself of attachments that cause suffering, no matter how much joy they once brought.