Buddha said that attachment is the cause of all suffering. Whenever we are attached to anything, we suffer. Hence, to let go of attachment is to end suffering. But what does this mean? Why should being attached to something cause suffering? Isn’t it a good and proper thing to be attached to our family, our home, our vocation? ‘Attachment’ is an often misunderstood concept. Let’s delve a little deeper and see what Bhudda meant.
Take hold of a simple object like a ballpoint pen – the type with a retractable point that you control by pressing a button on the top with your thumb. Unscrew it and take out the refill. Take off the button and the spring that enables it to work. Take apart every component of the pen and lay them out. Is this still a pen?
Now imagine something much more complicated – a car. Carry out the same process in your mind. When the car is completely stripped down into its component parts, is it still a car?
The problem with being attached to things is that there is nothing to be attached to. Not really. The things we care about are a kind of mental construction – they are just ideas. When we meditate deeply on the things we care about, we find that they are phantoms, dreams. When we discover the true nature of things, any substance we thought they had just falls apart. This is obviously true of physical things but it is also true – although harder to accept – of other people and relationships.
We create static images of things which are constantly changing. Take someone you know well, for example. When you think about this person, what comes to mind? A list of characteristics, traits, patterns of behavior, tastes, opinions? What kind of feelings to you get? Your image of this person is probably a fairly well defined and static thing. But the person is not a static entity – he is a dynamic, growing, changing person. He is not what he was as a child.
When we seek control or security by creating static images of continually moving things, we suffer. It’s like trying to tie up a flowing river in a package, or put the wind into a box. It simply cannot be done. For a while, we can be comfortable with our static images, but their inherent instability and lack of substance are bound, sooner or later, to cause suffering.
When we see things for what they are, we see that there is nothing there. Control, approval and security are fantasies. Letting go of attachment to these fantasies is effortless when we see the truth – that there is nothing to be attached to.
‘Do not try to bend the spoon – that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth. Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself.’
From The Matrix
Letting go of the things we feel so afraid to lose seems to be such a risk – we fear that, when we do let go, we’ll have nothing left, no support and no safety net. We feel, perhaps, that we might drift aimlessly through life without direction or purpose. Yet, oddly, when we are less attached to the need for power, control, approval and security, we can live a life with greater purpose, able to achieve our goals more easily – they seem to happen effortlessly because we are not using our energy holding on so tightly to these needs.
Letting go is freedom from the energy draining bondage of our psychological dependency on control, approval and safety. We need to stop holding on so tightly.
We can still love our family and our home – we can enjoy the experience of being together and in familiar surroundings. To hold something – to enjoy it – without wanting to possess it, to allow things to be as they are, without clinging, is the secret of happiness.
Mark Harrison is a certified NLP coach and writer on change management. Visit him at http://changeyourlife.net/membership-service/.