We all have attachments. Well, perhaps there are a few saints around who dwell in a continual state of God-awareness, but most of us give away our power to the material world.
Understanding how we give power away to something outside ourselves is the key to why we feel separated from God. The instant we forget that God is the giver and the doer of life, then, in that instant, we have separated our self from our Self. There is an underlying guilt associated with this mental action. Unconscious guilt occurs as we move away from God. The idea of life is to lovingly share the material world with others, not to get pleasure directly from it. When we forget that God is inside every act of sharing or inside every beautiful thing, then we become attached. We stop loving the “thing” and become dependent on it. Objects and conditions are in our world to serve our function, not to satisfy us. We block the flow of God’s goodness when we get overly attached and we externalize our happiness.
Though it is largely a matter of semantics, it would be informative in understanding nonattachment to examine attachment, addiction, detachment and unattachment.
Attachment is the psychological act of giving an object outside oneself power to make them happy. Healthy attachment is reciprocal and unconditional. Not so healthy attachment occurs when one gives more power to the external objects than the energy within themselves. The act pays homage to our ancient notion of duality: essentially that Godly stuff is good and earthly stuff is bad, that matter is distinct from our mind, and that God is at a distance. As soon as we see God at a distance, then we think we need to be comforted with something material.
Of course, there is a healthy side to attachment. It’s important to know how to care, bond and truly love other people and enjoy the world around us. Ultimately, we are learning to attach to our higher Self and to the Divine. It’s a matter of trust and love for both self and God. If we don’t know how to love and are always in our heads, thinking excessively, it’s a bit more difficult to find the love of God. If we don’t truly love our self it is impossible to accept the Love of God.
The word addiction is unpalatable; however, making an outside object more important than — or responsible for — your inner joy is a relative state of addiction. Everyone is “addicted” to something. Please don’t confuse clinical addiction with this description of early stage addiction. On the other hand, please don’t minimize the addiction aspect in being attached. The craving dictates that we need this item outside of our self in order to be OK. Dependency on the outer object causes us to give power to that object. “I cannot survive without….”; that is giving away power. Dependency is an obstacle of love. Dependency is not trusting that you are worthy of receiving God’s perpetually available joy. Dependency implies fear.
Further, there are tons of opportunities in the process of examining our attachments. Ultimately, God is able to use our foibles and issues to grow us toward the ultimate goal: total unconditional love. Total unconditional love! Feel that. That is the freeing act that brings us into the moment, into the dwelling of the Divine and into healthy relationship with the world.
Detachment implies disconnecting from something, a purposeful avoidance and lack of caring. Recognizing how much power we give away to the world about us can create a reaction. “I am so tired of caring so much and feeling controlled by money, or what others think. I just want to not care!” We may want to detach from the world and find a cave to hide in and avoid these feelings. Avoidance of a thing doesn’t mean we are unattached. We could go into a cave for a year but the demons of those beliefs are still in the unconscious. This is pretty evident with no-carb diets: A person committed himself to the Atkins Diet and was very successful in losing weight. He didn’t manage the transition back to ‘healthy eating’ well, though. His first bite of pizza triggered an eating spree that led him to regain all his shed weight in very little time. His carbohydrate addicted self was suppressed in his unconscious.
Fortunately, detachment can be a natural step on the path to nonattachment. There is a pendulum action as we become the proper balance of caring about the material but not being attached to outcomes. As we gain awareness of the difference between detachment and nonattachment, the pendulum loses momentum with each mindful decision, eventually coming to rest in the center.
The centered, loving attitude is being aware that the task you are carrying out is like washing the baby Buddha. It is realizing that all acts are sacred. In the moment of Now, there is only God, there is only the sacred awareness of the Divine blooming out of each instant. It is quiet. It is profound. The moment IS sacred. You can tell that this is working when you feel peaceful and your attention is calmly focused on the task at hand. When your mind is going a million miles an hour or you are reaching for the next cookie and you haven’t finished the one in your mouth then you know you’re not in a nonattached space.
The space we want to be in is caring so much that we do not own the person or the thing. We aren’t detached from the chocolate chip cookie; we enjoy it so thoroughly that we only need one bite. “Wow, what a fantastic cookie! Would you like a bite? Here you go. Wow.”
Unattachment implies a stronger force against being attached. Unattachment is not just burying the emotions of attachment. It describes pushing away. Unattachment can be a severing of connection, which is impossible because the thing that we are overly attached to is in our mind. Inner child healing may be illustrative. We cannot cut off the wounded inner child; that child needs to be loved all the more. Hating some aspect of our inner child only makes us feel bad about ourself. The addict who feels guilty, and hates himself for his behavior related to drugs or alcohol, continues in the cycle of addiction. Guilt here leads to denial there.
Despite unattachment being off plumb from nonattachment, I do like the connotation of the “un” prefix. It’s kind of powerful. It’s similar to the saying, “question authority.” I like that. Consider the word “undo” – the opposite of doing. How can we “undo” without doing? This paradox is what is being asked of us as we undertake the path of nonattachment. Breaking free of attachments is not an action step. It’s a “un” action step. Like meditating and releasing rambling thoughts, we gently release the attachment. In seeing the true nature of love and caring, attachments fade away. The idea is to so transform our consciousness so that the shear idea of attachment doesn’t make sense. It is love that heals addiction, not pushing away or severing. Metaphoric cutting of ties is OK, but angry reaction only binds. Imagine there are strings attached to karmic guilt, family expectation, things that we are attempting to let go; see yourself gently cut the strings to those beliefs and watch them drift away.
The way to enjoy the perfect sunset is to be nonattached. By being so present and alive and loving, the moment of watching the sunset is filled with awe and Oneness. I am the sunset. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. We do have trouble sustaining that space, though, don’t we? We get hungry or fearful and “want” something else. Luckily the sunset is just for a few minutes, but even then it is difficult to sustain the perfect concentration to just observe the sunset. Our mind flitters off. It is fearful to just enjoy the continuous “moment” of joy. The fight in our mind brings discomfort, “why can’t I just sit here and watch the sunset?” The meditative practice of nonattachment is to notice when our mind, attached to wants and fears, moves away from the sunset and gently bring our awareness back to its splendor.
Consider the state of Being when you are aware of desire for something and simultaneously the emptiness of seeking pleasure in materiality. This is an act of untying the knot in finding true compassion through sharing of the world around us. It is mindfully eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake with a dear friend all the while feeling the indwelling presence of God which produces the incredible taste, the essence of Love with your friend and the overall joy of the moment. In this state, the inner fount of joy is never lost. That joy is experienced in the center of all activities.
Nonattachment is being so present and alive and loving that our state of mind goes from “wanting” to that of “being”. Wanting is an illusion of the ego. We project the importance of some object onto that piece of God that we have labeled as “some object”. Wanting keeps us separate from the beloved. The ego wants us to think of the beloved as a body whereas they are truly a being that we can be connected to all the time. Most people are fearful of intimacy, so they cringe at the idea of sharing all thoughts and feelings. On a simple level, we think of our self as a body so we put that on the beloved as well. The body is just a reflection of the magnificence of the real person.
Being nonattached is caring so much that one sees the true meaning of an act. Every act is an opportunity to learn to love. Truly Loving is not being attached to the outcome. It is totally giving. It reminds me of an artist pouring their heart into a piece and not caring what others think of it. It reminds me of a loving angel that sees the path one might take but isn’t distressed about the detour that the person does take.
In the act of being nonattached, or rather as we learn to become nonattached, there are vast opportunities in facing attachment issues. We are able to observe aspects of personality: dependency, addiction, unworthiness or control needs for instance. One can observe the fear of being alone, a belief in separation, or the need to fix as a way to feel important and in control. By being mindful and facing the issue that pops up in the path of nonattachment, we can learn from it and release it. More importantly we can grow positive qualities. Underlying the compulsion to fix is love, a desire to help and serve. By listening to our true Self and inner love, we realize that codependency is an aspect of attachment.
Certainly, there is an emptiness that occurs in examining our attachments. Our sense of self defines itself by the objects in its environment. To face the idea that all these wonderful things in our life are meaningless is excruciating. Who am I then? I am totally alone! This Great Emptying is a step along the path. For the ego, it is purposefully daunting. It is a mountain that the personal self hopes you will not climb. On the other side is the ocean, freedom. The heavy possessions that define our sense of self cannot make it over the mountain and more importantly are not needed by us near the ocean. This emptying causes us to ask the difficult questions. Am I dependent on these people? What purpose do these possessions serve me? Am I free with money or am I afraid of it? What is unconditional love? We all run from this emptying. We do not trust that God is what God is. By subconsciously believing in isolation and unworthiness we are sure that examining our attachments is dangerous. That is where psychological denial comes from: the fear of seeing ourselves as unlimited causes us to avoid seeing an addiction. Addiction and excess attachment is moving away from God. Any object in our environment that we give power to and “makes” us happy is the same. Emptying allows the Divine to fill the void. Attachments are based on fear and push away God’s Wisdom. Nonattachment moves us through the fear of facing our attachments, through the emptiness and loneliness to an awareness of the truth that God does not judge our moving away from Him. Mindfulness and meditation are vehicles for quieting the attached mind and being fully present. In that quietness we become aware that God is Love.
Just as a little tease for my later writing I’d like to add: Total relinquishment also means being nonattached to emotions, thoughts and our beliefs. Are you a republican? Do you believe in animal rights? Underlying that belief is separateness and opposition. Be a vegetarian without being attached to the idea of being a vegetarian!