Non-attachment is a salute and acknowledgement to the temporary and transitory nature of existence. It is about letting go. Everything changes. Everything comes and goes. We die. Time marches on. The desire to resist these basic facts results is an attachment to keeping things the same. This is, of course, a futile effort.
Don’t get too attached to the life you are leading and everything and everyone within it. Don’t resist its fleeting nature. This is much easier said than done. It is not easy to practice Non-Attachment, especially when it comes to this physical Body that contains your soul.
The truth is that the life you are leading is but a minute in the overall story of your soul. It is a precious minute to be sure─ but it is still just a minute. If you practice Non-Attachment, then things will really lighten up for you. Life is valuable, at least in part, specifically because it is fleeting! It is also much more enjoyable when you are not in resistance mode to its fleeting nature.
Non-Attachment is also about one fundamental attachment─ our connection to the Divine. This is the only attachment that is worth keeping, because it is based in Truth and in our core being. Any other attachments have the potential to separate us from that one true connection.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” -W. Somerset Maugham
Non-attachment also pertains to not really needing a lot of “stuff” ─ material objects, possessions, clutter. Non-attachment in this realm engages the element of Simplicity, but can also be part of a continued acknowledgement of the transitory nature of everything. “You can’t take it with you,” as they say. Moths, rust and rot will do their thing. The stuff we possess can intervene with our Communion with the Divine and where our Devotional energy is directed, by distracting us. It can be that “mammon” alternative to worshipping God, as mentioned in the mainstream Bible. That whole anti-idolatry admonition in that same document might also have to do with not attaching ourselves to “golden calves” in an unhealthy manner so as to separate ourselves from God.
Having a lot of stuff also fuels ego energy─ especially when it comes to shiny, fancy stuff. The ego tends to like this kind of external validation. It’s a cheap, often unconscious, shot of “Look at me! Look how important I am because I have all this stuff!” The ego eats it all up. Its voracious appetite is never quite satisfied. It is very into “image control” and how we are perceived by others, and unfortunately, having lots of “stuff” can have at least the short- if not long-term effect of earning us “respect” or esteem in our communities. But esteem “earned” in this way is superficial because having stuff doesn’t speak to who we are, our talents, our passions or how we treat ourselves, others and the world.
Does this mean we can’t have nice things? Of course not. Material accumulation is a very slippery slope, however, that can serve to power up an ego that is constantly in resistance to the awakening process. As we do begin to awaken, we inherently care less and less about stuff. This process happens naturally, because we recognize the precarious nature of everything in the three-dimensional world. We don’t define ourselves by external objects. There are likely no hoarders among the awakened.
“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.” -Ali Talib
Bond, Healthy Bond
In psychology, Attachment Theory declares that we as humans need to form healthy attachments when we are young. We need to bond with our caregivers, especially for the first five to seven years of life. We need to be made to feel loved and safe while being granted gradual autonomy that teaches us to let go.
If we get these things, notwithstanding other influences, we will have the ability to form healthy attachments to other people throughout our lives─ and to the “stuff” around us as well. We can realize the transitory nature of everything and everybody. We can also realize that we will be okay when the people we love are gone. We do have the ability to commit to others and to let go them go if we need to.
If we didn’t experience healthy bonding as an infant and young child, our ability to form healthy attachments throughout our lives may be hampered. We can be clingy or dismissive, or dance back and forth between these dynamics. We may have a fear of intimacy and live from a place of inadequacy, creating fertile ground for egoic energy to step in and continued unhealthy attachment behaviors to perpetuate.
Non-Attachment is not about having no attachments at all to loved ones or anything else. It is about having healthy attachments. When we practice having healthy attachments, we realize that all of our loved ones will be gone some day and that this is part of life. Because of this fact, we cherish them while we have them in our lives, yet we don’t try to possess them. Regarding the things that we own, we realize that objects don’t define us.
With a sense of healthy attachment, we acknowledge an underlying Divine connection between all and do not need to cling to anything in the external world. Healthy attachments serve us and others. They make life enjoyable. With healthy attachments, we feel whole and have no need for external attachments. There is the inherent knowledge that we already have everything we need within.
Unhealthy attachment comes in many forms:
Addiction Obsession Craving Possession Codependency
Clinginess Greed Hoarding
Unhealthy attachments can run us.
We may not feel whole, or we may feel like we have a hole inside of us, when something or someone we are attached to in an unhealthy way is absent. We attach to those things that are outside of ourselves, such as alcohol, lovers, or material possessions, in order to feel whole.
Unhealthy attachment overcompensates if no Divine connection exists within.
When we have any unhealthy attachments within or around us, we are far off the mark of the connection to our Divinity─ and are usually not conscious of it. We will get feedback as relationships end and material things come and go. We will also have moments of clarity. In those moments, we can engage Self-Awareness and Healing to get to a healthier place.
A common confusion exists when it comes to “Love.” For some people Love can become akin to a “sticky glue”─ a concoction of addiction, obsession, craving, possession and co-dependency. This is a very insecure dynamic when it comes to relationships because the desire to possess someone objectifies them. With healthy attachments, the desire to possess another is not there— and should the instinct arise on occasion, we are able to identify it, accept it…And completely disengage from it.
If we are on any kind of spiritual path, we will inevitably cross paths with wonderful teachers. Unhealthy attachments that result in dependency can occur in the teacher-student dynamic as well. We may discover that we have relinquished our own sense of agency or have lost connection with the Divine. When it comes right down to it, you are your own best guru. Monitor such relationships as you go along your spiritual path. If unhealthy attachment is present, only you can change your course of action.
Things to Let Go Of
As we investigate the idea of Non-Attachment in our own lives, it may be helpful to enumerate common areas where we have a tendency to attach in unhealthy ways. Once we discover them, we can then practice Self-Awareness, Mindfulness and Healing in letting go of them. Here are some of the most common areas where unhealthy attachments exist:
- Life, Body, Youth: Our bodies are the wise-gift vessels that bring our Divinity into a dance with our humanity. As a gift, we are bound to respect and care for this body while at the same time recognizing that our body is not us. It will age and eventually it will cease to contain us. This Body will die. Acceptance is a key alchemical element when it comes to this fact; it is the best anti-aging drug ever. We can be youthful without clinging to the concept of youth in an unhealthy way.
- Emotions, Trauma, Hurt: Aspects of our culture tend to make humans incredible suppressors (i.e. “holders-on”) of emotion. We can do a good job of “keeping it all inside,” often times for fear of being overwhelmed by the emotions that may come pouring out if we do not. We can be unconscious of our unprocessed emotions while our bodies play a role in clinging to them. A major aspect of Healing is discovering our unprocessed emotions and letting them flow out of our bodies and minds. Of course, this not always an easy task. But the root word of emotion, after all, is MOTION. Our emotions are meant to be experienced and then let go of.
- Money, Stuff: As discussed, social conditioning and our own egos incline us towards acquiring and clinging to money and material objects. Caution and Self-awareness regarding this in order to maintain a healthy relationship with “stuff” is warranted in this area of our lives.
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Gospel of Luke
“The contentment one has when he knows he has enough is an abiding contentment.” – Lao Tzu
Beware of attaching to abundance as a code word for mammon draped in spirituality. Be cautious of the idea that abundance is something that exists outside of ourselves. Be wary of that idea that you are somehow not okay without high levels of material abundance.
- Controlling Outcomes: Of course, we can have healthy goals and intentions that serve us well and help us along our path of Service. We want to be careful, however, to not get into the habit of attaching too much to the outcome of our efforts. We can set our intentions in an area of our life and work towards goals along the way. But we can also be Mindful that we may, in fact, end up in a different place altogether when all is said and done. We don’t have to quit or give up our goals if this happens; instead, we can bend to a new reality. The elements of Surrender and Faith can be helpful for this process.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell
On that note, beware of “False Striving,” the racing to meet goals based on social conventions that may not reflect your own personal Truth. We can attach too much to milestones defined by social convention, such as having a practical job, getting married, having children or having a lot of money in our 401K plan.
- Responsibility for the Happiness of Others: We do what we can to help others to assist, nurture and serve them, yet each individual is ultimately responsible for their own growth, healing and awakening. We can offer help, or step in when invited, and even intervene in emergency situations. We otherwise have to respect the path of the individual which might not involve the work, healing or outcome we might wish for them.
- External Validation: Being a people-pleaser, wanting everyone to like you or in general needing approval from others for your actions can all be based in unhealthy attachment. Simply put, you can love your family and friends yet, at the same time, not really need their approval as to how you live your life. Constructive feedback can be respected without needing the approval of others. As long as you are not harming yourself or them, it’s their problem if they don’t like how you are running your life.
- The Past and the Status Quo: Unhealthy attachment to the past and the status quo comes from a general resistance to change and a resistance to the transitory nature of life. Living in the past and holding on to old stories and limiting beliefs negates the present moment. Trying to always maintain the status quo takes tremendous energy and prevents growth. Both lead to stagnant energy.
- Grievances and Grudges: Grudges, grievances and resentments keep you living in the past as well. They drain your energy, which could otherwise be put towards new activities and creativity. Forgiveness is a process which takes time, but it starts when we recognize that we have an unhealthy attachment to a grudge. Then we can decide to give it less attention in our life and focus on our healthy present endeavors. We can also just choose to let go of a grudge without forgiving anybody in particular.
- Having to be Right: In this competitive and perfectionistic world, many have acquired an unhealthy attachment to always being right or everything having to be “just perfect.” Perfectionism in any form can sometime be a sign of needing constant external validation or that we have forgotten our Divine nature. We are Divine even when we make mistakes; in reality, the mistakes that we make are part of our growth.
- Relationships: The ending of a relationship can be our toughest challenge as it can represent having to let go on so many levels, including those mentioned above. Letting go in this realm is also our biggest opportunity for growth and in developing a healthier attachment style for our next relationship.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” -Herman Hesse
Letting Go as a Process
In psychology, yoga and spiritual circles, I often hear the phrase, “Just let it go.” It is sometimes thrown about as catch-all advice for just about everything. Not everyone can just let go, however. Our initial attachment issues make a huge difference. Trauma can be trapped in our bodies as well as our minds. For most of us, letting go is a process and also an ability that we can improve upon. Your letting go may take a lot of work, another person’s may not. No one should feel inadequate because they are having a harder time letting go. They may simply have more work to do in this area in general.
The Bottom-Line on Non-Attachment
When we are whole and aware of the Divinity within, we realize that have everything we really need. There is no need to attach to anything else in a manner that does not honor our Divinity. Any need to attach in an unhealthy manner to that which is outside of ourselves is a sign that we feel we are not whole and that we are not aware of our own Divinity.
Acceptance is the key element that assists us in letting go. Freewill can play a role in directing effort and discipline towards letting go as well, while Faith and Surrender can assist in allowing us to let it happen.
Self-Awareness, Mindfulness and Healing help us to discover and Heal our attachment issues.
Change constantly pushes upon Non-Attachment in order to let go of the past.
The element of Courage is required to Let Go and face Healing issues associated with unhealthy attachments.
Simplicity and Non-attachment are interrelated and complementary. They contribute to one another in a variety of ways.
Nurturance plays a major role in fostering healthy attachment styles for children and ending unhealthy attachment cycles as well.
Love is applicable in all healthy attachments to individuals, including the Love that still exists when those relationships end. We can let go with Love. Self-love also plays a key role in letting go, as ultimately we only need attachment to the Divine within to feel loved.
Breath teaches us Non-Attachment. With each Breath we purge and release that which no longer serves us so that it may serve elsewhere.
- Reflection/Writing Exercise: In what ways might you have unhealthy attachments? Are there areas of your life where you have difficulty letting go? Each area where you see unhealthy attachments will need its own plan of attack, starting with the unhealthiest areas, such as addiction and co-dependency. Professional assistance may be necessary as you step into the process of creating healthy attachments and letting go of unhealthy ones.
- Examine your relationship with death, and your ability to let go regarding the eventual passing of your loved ones and yourself. Your overall spiritual belief system will likely play a role in applying Acceptance and Non-attachment here.
- Employ the element of Simplicity: De-clutter your material possessions! Spring Equinox makes for an excellent time for Letting Go by doing some Spring Cleaning. Giving away an item that you thought you would never part with makes for a challenging and freeing exercise in Non-Attachment. Donate unused or little used items to the less fortunate or have a garage sale. Except for on a temporary basis, banish the use of storage units. Get rid of any items that you would otherwise place in long-term storage.
- Nurture healthy attachments and bonding with children in your care. Practice balancing care with the need for individuation and be careful not allow expressions of love to become performance-based.
I am love; I am the ability to let go with love. I surrender to letting go with love.
Please Help Me to Release All That Does Not Serve Me
I accept and honor my impermanence.
My abundance is spiritual; My abundance is Divine.
Allow my strength. Allow my resolve. Allow my power let go and move on.