“The root of suffering is attachment”- The Buddha
What is non-attachment?
The word non-attachment can sound cold and unloving to some people, as if it might mean pushing the world away in an uncaring detached way. It conjures up images of hermit monks living in caves with no possessions. But these images are far from the truth of the reality of non-attachment and of the wonderful sense of freedom and compassion that it can bring.
The essence of non-attachment is not relying on external objects or sensations for your happiness and well-being.
If we think of attachment as a pull, (or the act of being drawn towards something), and detachment as a push, (or the act of pushing something away), then non-attachment can be seen as stillness, neither pushing away nor pulling towards. And in this stillness we can find peace.
Sometimes walking on top of a tall hill or mountain, looking out to sea, or up at the sky at night can give us this sense of separation from our thoughts and emotions and the dramas in our life. It reminds us that we are a part of something bigger, of which our opinions, feelings and dramas are a part, but only one very small part of the vastness of everything. I am sure that anyone who has done this will have experienced a beautiful sense of peace and stillness.
Everything is changing, do not hold on !
“When you realise that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.”-Tao Te Ching
In the practise of non-attachment we not try to hold on to things, people, or experiences, knowing that life is in constant flow, attachment comes from fear of loss and according to Buddha this is the basis of suffering. So we can try to just experience life and go with its flow of experiences, taking each one as it arrives, trying not to judge it and then letting it go. Because everything in the universe is constantly changing (at varying rates), nothing stays the same forever.
Lao Tzu said:
“The Tao is eternal, without beginning or end,
without desire or possession, it is one with everything.
The sage is unattached to things, because s/he is one with everything.
Because s/he is one with everything, s/he is neither attached nor detached.”
In the beginning
When we come into the world as newly born babies, it seems that we have no sense of ownership of anything, not even of our bodies. No sense of ourselves being separate from other people and the world, (new born babies do not even know that their hands belong to them). We have no past memories within our lifetime to cause a reaction and opinion. Therefore we live completely in the moment, we cry if we are hungry, in pain, or if we need to be held and we sleep when we are tired. We do not worry whether we will be fed when we are next hungry. We just observe and feel sensations and act on that immediately. So in many ways new born babies are in a state of non-attachment.
It doesn't take long though, for the baby to become aware of the existence of past and future experiences and the possibility that they may not always get fed the instant that they cry.
It has been shown that when a baby that has a secure attachment to its mother, or primary care giver it will grow up to be far more emotionally healthy than a baby who does not have the chance to form this bond. Because babies are so vulnerable, this need to attach to a person, or small group of people is strengthened by the physical biological advantage and helps the baby to feel safe.
As we grow and have experiences in the world we develop this sense of ownership, first of our bodies, then of objects and opinions. Everybody develops different opinions according to their experiences and inherited personality traits. As we grow up and the amount of responsibilities we have increases, the ability to live in the moment gradually decreases.
So in a way we are seeking to get back to this original state of a newborn baby, but with the wisdom and knowledge that life has taught us. A baby needs to form an attachment to its mother in order to feel secure, whereas in practising non-attachment we find that quite the opposite is true and that the practise of non-attachment in itself gives us a sense of freedom and security.
“Try not to confuse attachment with love. Attachment is about fear and dependency and has more to do with love of self than love of another, love without attachment is the purest love because it isn't about what others can give you because you're empty, it is about what you can give others because you are already full”- Yasmin Mogahed
When practising non-attachment you still feel emotions. Because we can't prevent emotions from arising, it is natural and human. Even great spiritual teachers sometimes laugh and cry, feel frustration and impatience. The difference is that they have learnt not to indulge these emotions by getting upset by ruminating on their negative feelings or wanting to prolong positive feelings. They will recognise that a certain feeling makes them feel happy, sad, angry, or whatever it may be, they observe these feelings as if they were just passing through and then let them dissolve.
By practising non-attachment we can get a perspective on our conditioned personal responses without attaching so much emotion to it. This allows us to open our minds and understand other peoples opinions a little better, to see that our opinion is only one small part of the whole, this enables us to let go of a need to control and to always be right.
Non-attachment brings freedom and peace, as you are in charge of your mind and emotions no longer dominate you. This allows you to experience the flavour of every experience without needing to cling to it.
“If you let go a little, you will have peace.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely, you will discover complete peace”.