I struggle with attachments. I struggle with letting go of things. I suspect I am not unique.
I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Buddhist writings. The idea of attachment is regularly referenced. The goal is to accept the concept of non-attachment. I’m nowhere close to doing that.
The concept is of non-attachment is derived from Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, which make up the essence of the teachings. They teach that life is suffering and attachment is one of the causes of that suffering. However, where there is a cause, there is a cure. According to Buddhists, the way forward is to study the teachings. The way forward is to learn to non-attach.
I know very little about Buddhism, to be honest. I’m in the very early stages of learning. My knowledge lacks any semblance of depth – it’s mostly made up of soundbites. But, from what I’ve read so far, I’m a fan. It makes sense to me; the teachings are logical. Plus, some of the concepts work the brain in a very pleasant way; I enjoy exercising my brain. Unfortunately, logical doesn’t mean easy and detaching from my attachments, especially physical ones, will be difficult. Some things I hold are very important to me, important to how I maintain my stability. Threats to them or problems with them can upset my whole day.
Foremost among these are my books. I am very attached. I am also attached, to a lesser extent, to my stuffed animals, my DVDs (which I rarely watch anymore thanks to streaming), and pretty much anything I’ve organized. But books are the top of the list. Attachment to people is a different category; I tend to hold people at a distance for emotional safety, so I’m already on my way to non-attachment there even if the motivation is unhealthy. But detaching from my books?
They’re so pretty. They’re organized, categorized, and sized by type. They make me happy. I dust them. I reorganize them. I scent my library with lavender to keep the crawling beasties away. I reread them. I put them in piles. I redo the piles. I regularly add to my collection. I don’t lend them, ever. Far too stressful. What might be happening to them when they’re out of my sight and care? Food stains? Spills? Getting dropped in the bathtub?
And God help me if one goes missing. If I decide I want this book or that one and go to retrieve it from its supposed location and it happens to be absent, panic ensues. Everything stops. I will tear the house apart. I obsess. I stress. It has a seriously negative personal effect as my searching gets frantic. If the worst happens and I simply cannot find it, the book is replaced. I do not countenance library amputations.
It has occurred to me at times, however, often when I’m ripping apart cupboards that I absolutely know do not house the absent tome, that my attachment to things and the anxiety that ensues when my world is disturbed is problematic. It requires some addressing.
Rigidity is almost never a healthy option.
You don’t have to give up things you like with Buddhism. It’s similar to Stoicism in that regard. You’re simply changing your orientation. I don’t have to give away the things I own and attach to, I simply need to change the nature of the connection.
According to Stoicism, things are basically indifferents. Some we prefer, and some we disprefer. But in and of themselves, they mean nothing. It’s the desire to attach to things that is problematic, not the things themselves. Things have no intrinsic moral value at all.
Non-attachment is the antidote to the clinging problem described in the Second Noble Truth. If attachment is a condition of finding life unsatisfactory, it stands to reason that non-attachment is a what will bring satisfaction with life, that most desired goal of nirvana.
It is important to note, though, that the Buddhist advice is not to detach but rather to simply recognize that non-attachment is inherent. We are by nature and design separate. And things are not really there anyhow. And we’re all kind of one. This is where Buddhism starts to get a little tricky. I’m just starting to wade into these ideas so I’ll leave it at that for now.
The modern world is designed to foster attachments. Not to people or pets. Those are more socio-biological drives. The developed, consumer-driven world is designed to makes us love and connect. But to things. It’s designed to make us want things. Not just the things themselves but the meaning we’ve attached to them. Like believing that a certain eyeshadow can make you beautiful and content. Like believing that you can’t live without your phone. Like believing it only takes new furniture to make you feel complete. We’d be less inclined to fill our lives with paraphernalia if we weren’t encouraged to believe we love the things we buy and need them for emotional satisfaction and safety.
Do you try and find internal contentment from external sources?