Getting “attached” to our bodies, life, others, views, and possessions is as natural as breathing. It is going to happen. In my previous blog: “Why Do We Get Attached?”, I posed several possible explanations for why we get attached, as well as the fact that being attached ultimately causes us a lot of grief, and propels us right out of the “flow”.
Since “attachment” is going to happen, it causes extra stress, and it constipates your flow, it is important to have a contemplative practice that provides two things:
- Awareness of your attachments, and how much stress these attachments are causing you, and
- Tools to loosen your grips on these attachments, albeit skillfully.
In this post, I will be focusing on #1 listed above – how to uncover your attachments.
Everywhere I go, I run into people who are white-knuckling it! Holding on, clinging to their money, others, possessions, or life circumstances. I have found myself white-knuckling many situations, and in a lot of ways, my practice has been more about determining what I am attached to and letting go, than about learning or acquiring intellectual knowledge. Ultimately, anything I am holding onto will limit my spiritual progress, as well as limit my ability to be present during my life. For anytime I am attached, my energy and attention is going to my attachment and not to this present moment!
There is a story in the Majjhima Nikaya (classical Buddhist text), wherein the Buddha used the analogy of a man on a long, important journey who came to a river that he had to traverse. Unable to find transport across this river and using his wisdom, this man built a raft out of brush, wood, vines, and clay, etc. He then used this raft to reach the other side. The Buddha then asked if it would be wise for this man to continue to carry this heavy raft on foot for the rest of his journey? The obvious answer is that the man had this fine tool that served him well when he needed it, but it would be wiser for him to leave it than to drag it through the remainder of his journey, because doing so would impede his progress. So, a key point is to use your contemplative practice to clearly see the rafts you are dragging around, and leave them on the edge of the riverbank.
So, how do you find your attachments? This may seem like an obvious inquiry, but not so! There is a Buddhist saying that “attachments are endless”. In my own practice, I am amazed at how I continue to uncover and see attachments I was previously downright blind to, as well as old ones that I thought were gone, which crop back up again. Here are some key indicators that you can use for uncovering and clearly seeing pesky, sticky attachments.
- Basically, every time you experience any prolonged internal stress, fear, anger, or contraction – BOOM!, you are attached!
- If you have formed a strong, personal identity around any real or perceived “object”, you are attached. For example, if I run around introducing myself as a “meditation teacher“, before anyone has even had the chance to ask me what I do, I am clearly attached to this identity. I may also be attached to my meditation practice, related knowledge, as well as any attainments of wisdom I have developed.
- If you tend to judge someone or a particular group of people or situations harshly, you are attached. I have caught myself in the painful: project – judge – blame – defend or attack loop, which is my ego’s attempt to avoid taking responsibility for my actions and attachments. Once again, another whole post possible here.
- If you are not seeing things clearly, as they actually are, you are attached. Years ago, I had a good friend I saw as honest and reliable, who stole over $20,000 right under my nose, from one of my businesses. In retrospect, I saw the many warning cues I had ignored, because I was attached to my “view” of him as solid, honest, and reliable.
- If you have difficulty letting go of a clearly unhealthy, detrimental relationship with a person, object, job, or situation, you are attached. I cannot tell you how many different people have told me that they were holding on to really unhealthy romantic relationships, out of fear of being alone. There is clearly attachment and fear intermingled here.
In many ways, it is much easier to remain attached than it is to face the fears, beliefs, conditioning or baggage that are motivating your attachments. But the cost of holding on to your attachments is “living an unhappy, unconscious life”!
If you want to spend more time in the creative life flow, you will want to begin uncovering and letting go of your attachments.
In my next blog, I will go over some of the strategies I use to let go of these attachments.
In the meantime, please let me know any tools you use to recognize and uncover your attachments.
In freedom & flow,
- Why Do We Get Attached? (flowdestiny.com)
- The Buddha’s Discovery, by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (buddhismnow.com)