“When you stop trying to grasp, own, and control the world around you, you give it the freedom to fulfill you without the power to destroy you. That’s why letting go is so important: letting go is letting happiness in.” -Lori Deschene
Is there a particular outcome, opportunity, or material thing you really want in this moment?
Do you hold on to expectations of how certain people around you should behave and treat you?
And do you have high expectations of yourself?
Wanting things, expecting things, and being attached to specific outcomes are all a natural part of the human condition.
But what if these strong desires are actually holding you back from what you truly need and want?
And what if by consciously releasing these desires, you could in turn experience ultimate joy and fulfillment?
This in a nutshell embodies the concept of non-attachment - and as you’re about to discover, it could be one of the best practices you ever embrace.
What is non-attachment?
Non-attachment is a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened consciousness.
It is a concept that occurs in many eastern philosophies of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism.
The Buddha taught that seeing oneself and everything else this way is a delusion. Further, it is a delusion that is the deepest cause of our unhappiness. It is because we mistakenly see ourselves as separate from everything else that we "attach."
A Zen Buddhist teacher, John Daido Loori, said, “According to the Buddhist point of view, nonattachment is exactly the opposite of separation. You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In nonattachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There Is unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?"
You may even relate to this. Many of us may know people or have at times in our lives pursued happiness because we thought it was something outside of us. But it is what is inside allowing the unity, the idea that there are not answers or attachments that matter outside, but rather inside.
Seeing through the delusion of separation means we no longer give "external things" the power to make us miserable. The ideal is equanimity, free from the compulsion to chase what we want and run from what we don't want.
Most of the time, we don't see the little personal freedom we really have. Our culture tells us that it's good to acquire things like material possession and fame, so there's nothing wrong with desiring and pursuing them. We don't see how much of our lives are eaten up in a vain pursuit of things we think will make us happy. And when we acquire those things, we don't stay happy for long before we start chasing something else.
And how much of our lives are eaten up with anxiety over the things we think we have to have to make us happy? Worrying about something you've lost is attachment. Disappointment is attachment. What we think will make us happy can also make us miserable.
Non-Attachment in Ancient India
From ancient India, Jainism holds non-attachment as one of it’s five great vows, (Maha-vratas), called Aparigraha. They believe that the more outer wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire and maintain that possession, and in the long scheme of life, he would be unhappy. The world has many attachments, which in turn result in greed, jealousy, selfishness, ego, hatred and even violence.
Even in Buddhism, it is discussed in The Four Noble Truths. The Buddhist four noble truths are:
- The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness)
- The truth of the origin of dukkha
- The truth of the cessation of dukkha
- The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha
What is the nature of dukkha?
Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering”, “anxiety”, “unsatisfactoriness”, “unease”, etc., and it is said to have the following three aspects:
- The physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
- The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
- A basic unhappiness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has given Buddhism to hold a “pessimistic” viewpoint. But the real theory and emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the universal human condition. It involves the idea that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable main sufferings of illness, aging, and death.
Realizing this non-attachment is not as easy as we would like it to be. It's not a matter of going to a yoga retreat and being released from anxiety for the rest of your life. It's a practice that requires giving up ideas about rewards or escaping to a better place.
It’s in knowing that the other side, the better place is right here, and the reward is already yours. Truly realizing this is non-attachment.
Here are the 3 key forms of attachment and what you can learn from each:
Type of Attachment
How It Manifests
Key Learning from Letting Go
When happiness and security lies in the external world of objects and things, we are in constant peril and worry about losing them.
Material possessions are meaningless and transient
When using other people to create our happiness, this is also known as conditional love.
Not needing anyone for acceptance or validation.
When we attach ourselves to a thought, we do so because they bring us either comfort, ego justification, or a sense of order and security. i.e. “I’m always like this. I can never change”, “Those people are all liars,” “He should be more...”
By observing a thought, we do not identify with it, and therefore do not attach to the thought. i.e. through quieting the mind in meditation.
So should we all move to a monastery and “unattach” ourselves?
There's nothing wrong with striving to accomplish and having goals or visions, nothing wrong with making life-long friends, or pouring your love into your spouse and children. Even the Buddha himself spent his life after his enlightenment associating with people and teaching them as students. Non-attachment does not require an extreme asceticism or completely shunning human contact. It is achievable in modern day without turning to a monastery. Non-attachment comes from the wisdom that nothing is truly separate.
Non-attachment as non-separation...
The meditation teacher and author Dr. Tara Brach rarely uses the term “non-attachment.” She refers to “non-separation.” Since, for attachment to occur, there must be separation between self and other.
“In realizing non-separation,” she says, “we come home to our primordial and true nature.”
The best approach to separation may be just day today. This can include accepting a moment for what it is, believing what you have in your now is enough, finding your own self-worth, letting go of fear and control.
Because, in the end, just three things matter:
“How well we have lived,
How well we have loved,
How well we have learned to let go.” –Jack Kornfield
Start Releasing Your Disempowering Attachments… With A Little Help From Nature
As is often the case, Mother Nature offers her own remedies for releasing attachments and realigning with unconditional joy and fulfillment.
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