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9th Mar 18
In last week’s blog This Too Shall Pass, I briefly mentioned ‘attachment’ and how we cause ourselves emotional pain with our habit of becoming attached to things and expecting them to always stay the same. You can read that article here.
This week I thought I’d elaborate a little bit more and touch upon one of the Buddhist practices of non-attachment that I feel would really be of some benefit. But first, here’s a lovely story I’d like to share:
Heading back to their monastery, two monks were travelling together and during their journey they came to a halt at a river swollen with a strong, turbulent current. As they were preparing to cross, they became aware of a young maiden also needing to get to the other side. She called out to them for help unaware of the dilemma she had caused these two holy men for the vows they had taken, forbade them from any contact with the opposite sex.
However, without a word, the older monk gently picked up the young maiden and carried her across the river. He placed her gently down on the other side and continued on his journey. The younger monk followed, astonished at what he had just witnessed and the two monks continued the rest of their journey in silence.
Time passed by and after several hours the younger monk could contain his incredulity no more. “How could you carry that woman when our vows forbid us to do so?”
The older monk gazed steadfastly at him replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
We are all attached to something whether that is something material such as an item of clothing, a phone, a car or a piece of jewellery, another living being such as a person or pet, a habit such as always going to the same supermarket, eating the same things, watching the same tv programmes, a way of thinking and/or a way of doing something. We are essentially creatures of habit and that in itself isn’t always a bad thing. What happens though when the outcome of a usual habit is something different from what we are used to or what we expect? Well it can cause conflict and disharmony within us. When we ‘expect’, we leave ourselves wide open to dissatisfaction because when the reality doesn’t match up to how we think it should be, then it causes pain. The perfectionists amongst you reading this will understand exactly what I’m talking about. Perfectionism is a curse that causes so much anguish, and don’t I know it! I like to think of myself as a ‘recovering perfectionist’ as I can recognise the untold pressure I put upon myself to get things ‘right’, but right by whose standards? Well, my own standards of course and they unfortunately can be ridiculously high! So whilst I can recognise the behaviour, it’s not always easy to break that habit and I’m sure you’ll agree, we are our own harshest critic!
Attachment to our ego is one of the main sources of internal anguish. The ego is formed in our impressionable early years when our elders tell us who we are and how we are supposed to behave and that if we don’t behave in a certain way, then we are ‘not good enough’ and many other words to that effect. As children we accept these opinions as our truth and so we build up these impressions and images of how things are ‘supposed to be’ and carry them through our adult life. Hands up anyone who has found themselves thinking in horror: ‘OMG, I sound just like my mum/dad!’ when in your rebellious years you swore you’d never be like that? Such is the power of conditioning. So we set ourselves ridiculous goals, we become disappointed not only with our own behaviour but with that of others because we ‘believe’ we/they should act in a certain way. We become attached to our jobs and when things become uncertain, we feel the fear of a possible loss. We become attached to material possessions and fiercely protect them. If I told you that my car had been stolen, you’d probably sympathise with me to some extent and then continue with your everyday life. Now, if it’s your car that’s been stolen, how would you feel? You'd probably go through many different emotions and 'feel' the pain, that’s the difference. You’re not attached to my car, so its loss doesn’t really mean much but you are attached to your own.
Does ‘non-attachment’ mean you stop caring? No! Not at all! It’s a state of acceptance that things do not stay the same. Everything in life, including us is impermanent. It’s about letting go of expectations and accepting things unconditionally. Whether that’s loving someone exactly as they are without the desire to change them, letting go of outcomes, being willing to accept the unexpected. Non attachment is a state of being. It enables us to develop unconditional love, an ability not to cling on to things so that we lose that fear of them leaving our lives. It increases our ability to live in this present moment without wishing things were different. It’s embracing every single moment understanding that what we have right now can change in the blink of an eye and if we are not attached to things, behaviours, habits, opinions then we have no fear because there are no conditions.
Non attachment is not about disconnecting from the outside world and all that’s in it, it’s an appreciation of the now. It’s about connecting to our divine self and understanding that there is no separation between the universe and ourselves, we are one.
So the next time you admire a bunch of flowers, appreciate them for what they are now. Relish their beauty and scent and accept their impermanence, for change is already under way. Choose your battles wisely, resisting change is one you won’t win ;-)
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