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Letting Go: Why We Should Reflect on Attachment

Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 1:00AM

Some philosophies say that attachment is the root of all suffering, but what do they mean exactly? What is the mechanism?

Today's post talks about attachment and how it differs from things such as love and aspiration, which it is often confused for.


 

Some philosophies, such as Buddhism, say that attachment is the root of all suffering, but what do they mean exactly? What is the mechanism? How does it cause suffering?

The foundation of this idea is the impermanence of all things: since nothing lasts forever, if we are attached to something when it fades away we will suffer.

Yet, some may argue that we need attachment for various reasons. Perhaps they argue that it is an important component of love, or that it’s necessary for career motivation, or even that it is a pivotal human characteristic – that it’s what makes us us.

Do these arguments stand up to analysis?

Love

When we love someone, we care deeply for them. We want them to be happy, we want the best for them. Unconditional love is as it sounds, without conditions, and so no matter what happens, whether they are with you or not, you love them.

Notice how this differs from attachment. When we are attached to someone, we want them in our life. We want them to make us happy. We may even feel that without them it is impossible to be happy (though of course that’s not true, it just feels that way). We can become so attached that we stubbornly declare life is not worth living without them.

Do you see the difference? Attachment is all about us and what we want, whereas love is about the other and their happiness. Attachment does not contribute anything to love, it muddies the waters and confuses the selfless goal of love with selfish attachment. Not to mention that we suffer deeply when the relationship ends and we lose the object of our attachment. We may even feel negatively toward our previous partner because ‘they left us.’ How could they?!

In other words, attachment is like a conditional love – it says ‘I love you as long as you stay with me and make me happy.’ Who wants that?

Career Motivation

Is attachment necessary for career motivation or is there a better option? In this regard we can either be attached to a certain achievement, to the acquisition and consumption of material things, or to some sort of external verification or validation by peers.

As we saw before, when we become attached we often declare that the object of attachment is necessary for our happiness, thus our motivation is a selfish one. To be sure, being selfish is good sometimes – but our selfish actions should never, intentionally or negligently, be at the cost of others. By all means compete and give your best, but there is no need to push others down in order to advance.

One alternative type of motivation is aspiration, which typically involves others in some capacity. Perhaps we aspire to be a great leader instead of becoming attached to the idea of being the boss. We may aspire to build a socially equitable company instead of becoming attached to the idea of being rich or achieving some social status.

The difference between aspiration and attachment is that typically our aspirations involve others in our goals whereas attachment is born out of selfish desire.

Lately I’ve been feeling somewhat down and depressed, I felt worthless because I did not feel I was successful enough – I was comparing myself to others and viewing my life through the lens of monetary and material acquisition. I realized that I was attached to the idea of being successful in the eyes of others, adhering to the societal view of success.

If my motivation is external it will never last, it will be as transient as a spring flower or the winter snow. Here briefly before fading away again, and without real substance. The same goes for any happiness or satisfaction that comes from following that motivation.

Instead of attachment to ideas of external success, if I follow a passion or aspiration I am much more likely to find a happiness that lasts – or at the very least not regret wasting time trying to please others before myself (again, selfishness is good in moderation).

 

I should stress that attachment is NOT bad. We can learn a lot from it actually, and secure attachment is central to our early childhood development. However, this post is not about that type of familial attachment, it’s about attachment in a broader sense as it relates to our daily interactions with the world around us. This attachment is a way of clinging to the past or ideas of the future so as to resist the change that is happening, whether intentionally or not. It separates us from reality through our refusal to accept the way things are.

To replace this attachment we should look to love, gratitude, and the understanding that all things come and go – nothing lasts forever. We can find beauty and comfort in that if we truly explore and meditate on the idea.

We must find comfort in the fact that everything changes, and allow that understanding to enhance our compassion and gratitude for all the opportunities and experiences that we are graced with – despite our labeling them as good or bad.

Don’t take everything so seriously, live a life you love, give freely, and take all the opportunities you can to enjoy your experience – with the sobering understanding that it may be gone tomorrow.

If we don’t, we risk letting our attachment to the way things were keep us from living fully right now.

 


Ben Fairbrother

I’m an Empowerment Coach here to help you expand your potential by releasing limitations that are holding you back.

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