Attachment comes in many forms. We can be attached to people or objects, to a job or social identity, even to an idea or belief. We have all kinds of attachments, some strong and others more subtle. And we’re often unaware of how strong our attachments are until we lose something or face the threat of loss. All of a sudden this thing which seems to give us a sense of comfort, security or pleasure is now causing us grief. So the nature of attachment is craving and this craving is suffering. And when the craving is not met, or the object of craving is taken from us or doesn’t live up to our expectations, we suffer all the more. So we see how attachment can be problematic and we want to be free of it. But this is often easier said than done.
Sometimes, especially if we are on a spiritual path, we think that in order to get rid of attachment we must get rid of the object of attachment. We think that detachment means cutting ourselves off from someone or getting rid of material possessions. But that doesn’t really resolve the deeper issue. Our attachment is not caused by anything external. It’s an internal, psychological state. Changing our behavior or our environment is only a temporary facade. It does nothing to relieve us of the attachment itself.
So the first thing is that we need to accept that attachment is there. Not to resist it. Not to put any pressure on ourselves to struggle against it, because this only causes us to suffer all the more. But to simply acknowledge our attachments, to be aware of them, and to accept them without any sort of negative judgment.
We have a tendency to think that in order to be spiritual we must be completely free from all attachment, and to do this we have to resist our attachment. We have to fight against it. But what we wind up doing is repressing it, which doesn’t get rid of it at all. We simply convince ourselves that’s it’s gone, but really we’ve only buried it. We think of someone who is detached as being cold and indifferent or totally inactive, but this is not true detachment. This is avoidance. This is disconnectedness. When we think in this way, we tend to make an effort to be detached through disengaging or evading that which we are attached to. So instead of releasing the attachment, we bury it. And whatever desire is feeding it is still there, hiding beneath the surface, growing and festering.
If we’re trying to get rid of attachment by disengaging or avoiding something this means we’re resisting, we’re making an effort. By resisting we create conflict within, which in turn causes us to suffer. We want to be detached because we want to free from the suffering that arises from attachment. But by resisting and struggling and fighting with ourselves we create more suffering. So this method simply doesn’t work. We need to approach it in a completely different way.
Rather than fighting against our attachments we should simply seek to understand them, and not just in an intellectual way, by reading about it or listening to someone lecture. We need to look at our own attachment as we experience it, to observe and examine it and to understand the entire process. We need to understand all the fear and desire behind it.
Now, the fact that you’re reading this tells me that you’ve already begun observing your attachment. You recognize the suffering associated with it. You’re observing the process just enough to notice that your attachment is causing you to suffer. So this is a good place to start, but it’s not enough. You have to continue observing it, while at the same time diving deeper into it. Try to observe what’s underneath the surface.
Whenever we’re experiencing any sort of emotion we usually experience only the surface of that emotion. So we may be experiencing anger or jealousy, longing or sadness. But these emotions are not as one dimensional as they appear. They are built up upon layers of underlying emotions, thoughts and beliefs that we are often unaware of. So if we’re looking at our suffering and we see that underlying that suffering is this attachment, now what? Don’t stop there. This is just one link in the chain. So we have to look beneath the attachment and find out where it’s coming from.
So what’s at the root of your attachment? I’m not going to tell you, because you have to see it and understand it yourself. Even if I say that your attachment is rooted in some craving or fear or whatever it may be, you might understand that intellectually. And you can agree or disagree, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere. You have to see it for yourself in order to truly understand it beyond just the level of the intellect.
Often what is behind our attachment is desire, which is a form of fear and insecurity. But are we willing to explore this? Are we willing to look at it, to deeply understand it? Because these things can be very uncomfortable for us. We’d rather not go there. We’d rather not disturb that sleeping beast. But if we want to do away with attachment, we have to understand it, and that means facing whatever uncomfortable feelings underlay it. And when we come to understand these things we may find them to be illusory. In which case there is no need to fight against them. Simply by seeing the illusory nature of something is enough to transcend it.
All of this is much easier said than done. It’s very easy to talk about this kind of thing. But why does it seem so difficult to let go of the attachment? When we talk about letting go of something we’re talking about an act that requires absolutely no effort whatsoever. It takes no effort at all to let go. So why then does it seem to be so difficult?
We often say that we’re trying to let go of our attachment, but there is no trying in letting go. If there is any trying; that is, if there is any effort being made, then we’re not releasing anything, because releasing means we’re no longer making any effort. So we need to get rid of the notion that letting go requires some kind of effort, some kind of struggle.
But if letting go of attachment is completely effortless, then why does it seem to require such an effort? This is something we have to understand. The effort we are making is not in the letting go, but in holding on. The attachment itself is the effort. So the real question we need to ask ourselves is why we’re holding on? Why are we afraid to let go? What is that fear? What is the belief behind that fear?
Are we willing to look at it, to examine it? Do we have the courage to face it? Often we’re afraid even to look at our own fear. But why are we so afraid to examine our own emotions, our own thoughts and beliefs? What are we afraid we might discover?
As long as we’re unwilling to explore the dark regions of the subconscious, we remain under it’s influence. We want the attachment to go, but if we’re unwilling to see what’s at the root of it, how can we expect it to go away?
When we have this kind of resistance to examining our own fear and attachment, could it be that deep down we already know the truth, but we’d rather not accept it?
Perhaps our attachment is founded upon some illusion about how we would like things to be. We imagine some ideal person or situation. But the reality is much different. And we’d rather not face that reality. The illusion is much more comforting. So perhaps we’re afraid to examine our illusions because deep down we know them to be false, and we know that if we examine them deeply they’ll dissipate.
But I say that if there is even the possibility that our perception of someone or something, or even an idea or belief, is inaccurate or false, we should have enough integrity, enough self-respect to want to know the truth. The problem is that we would often rather remain in the illusion because the illusion seems more ideal and more pleasant. But reality is something that doesn’t always match with our desires and expectations. Our fantasies are under our control, but we have little control over reality, and are in fact helpless to it’s fluctuations. So perhaps part of the issue is that we wish to have control over our circumstances. And perhaps, in order to release our attachments, we first need to come to terms with the fact that we have little or no control over our our life circumstances.
We can try to maintain our illusions, but illusions don’t last forever. Reality is constantly shaking you. Like water coursing over stone, reality will erode at your illusion over time. It’s all going to dissolve at some point anyway, so why resist that process? Why keep trying to hold on to something which isn’t even real? Why not let go of the need to be in control?
And remember that the whole reason we’re looking at all of this in the first place is because we want to do away with suffering. But the more we’re in conflict with reality the more we are going to suffer. So if we want to be free from attachment, in any regard, we have to be willing to explore it and to understand and accept what is. We need to be willing to acknowledge our illusions in order to see through them.
Letting go of attachment is not something we can do easily without first understanding what it is we’re holding onto and why. Releasing requires no effort, so rather than focus on the letting go, bring your attention to what you’re resisting. Focus on why it is that you’re holding on so tightly. And be patient with yourself. Be patient with the process. Simply bring awareness to it, without judgment, without resistance or effort, and without being attached to any particular outcome. Detachment isn’t something to be forced. When you fully understand the motivation behind your attachments, they will begin to fall away on their own.