It is not too far off to say that the story of human life, your life, is the story of various attachments. What attachments? Attachments to sensations. What we call “the human body” (a somewhat arbitrary distinction) is principally a vehicle for the sense organs and other bodily systems – blood circulation, digestion, the nervous system, etc. The function of the senses is to apprehend sense objects, e.g. the eye seeks out visible light, the ear seeks sounds, the tongue tastes. . . But once these sense objects are apprehended, YOU choose what to do with the information (more on that shortly).
Generally, people seek out pleasant and enjoyable sensations and shun painful or unpleasant ones. This is the “story of human life” I mentioned. Actually, you might call it the “story of animal life” as well (the verdict is out on plants and rocks). You taste raspberry sorbet and react favorably. In your subconscious, you make a note to repeat the experience in the future. Two days or two weeks down the road you encounter the opportunity, and you do so. Likewise, you may have a whole list of things to avoid so as to not experience pain.
But alas, our senses are clever and crafty servants. They work for you as long as you are able to remain in control. If you are unable, they gladly take over! A strong desire or preference, built up over time and only broken with difficulty is an attachment.
There is nothing wrong with “choosing your own adventure,” with being alive, experiencing the richness of life. But to foster attachments can really cause some problems. When you don’t get something that you want, or when you get something you don’t want, you become upset and agitated. You can easily see the whole range of implications in your own life or in the lives of people you know. Attachments can be as benign as a predilection for the color green, or as hellish as an opiate addiction.
The good news is, as far as attachment, you have options. You can experience and not be attached. Upon introspection this should be obvious, but sadly most people never note the positive correlation between their levels of attachment and misery. There is the very real possibility of living your whole life (even a full, rich life, rather than one of an ascetic!) with very little attachment.
Let’s look at a very common habit: tobacco consumption in the form of cigarettes. You may find smoking a cigarette to be enjoyable, and thus you desire to smoke a cigarette. Attachment takes that a step further. At least some of the time you are taking that cigarette in unconsciousness. You reach for it without really deciding to. You have a craving and if you don’t get it you feel bad, stressed, confined, and anxious.
Attachment starts energetically and manifests physically. For a cigarette smoker, the attachment manifests in the need for a nicotine fix. If you don’t get that fix, your body will give you hell for it. But that doesn’t happen because you need the cigarette. After repeated reinforcement, that habit is lodged deep in the subconscious mind. It will take some work to get beyond it.
No object or experience is inherently an attachment. There is a way to approach every object, every concept with attachment or without. For instance, I can smoke tobacco, but if I don’t have a cigarette for days, weeks, months, or for the rest of my life, I’m still happy, I’m still stress-free. It’s something I can choose to engage or not engage in. When I smoke, I can feel the nicotine, I can feel the effect of the different levels of chemicals that affect me. I feel that, enjoy that, embrace that. But I don’t need it. That’s being non-attached.
Tobacco itself isn’t actually creating the attachment. Tobacco is just a small way that it’s playing out. If someone is addicted to cigarettes, I guarantee they have a lot of other attachments. People always want to blame the nicotine or the chemicals. As soon as you blame your attachment on the product, you are giving power away, you are controlled by attachment to that object.
Often the problems caused by one attachment can eventually lead to many more attachments. If you have attachments that result in a rocky interpersonal relationship, you may try to cover up and distract yourself from those bad feelings with other attachments. Do you tune out and watch teevee or spend hours on the computer? These are tip-offs that may indicate an unsatisfactory relationship elsewhere. One unhealthy relationship turns into another unhealthy relationship with a substance, or with food, or sex, or violence.
So here’s what you can do:
When you’re ready to begin the process of getting free, you can start by looking at the most obvious things in your life – do I have any unconscious habits or tendencies? Do they manifest in the unconscious consumption of cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, or caffeinated beverages? What stands out the most? You can’t deal with anything you’re not aware of. You have to become conscious first. So rather than trying to deal with all of your attachments at once, just start with ones you already know are there.
Become aware that you have attachment. Acknowledge and accept that, and be responsible for it. You are aware and you accept it without judgment. If you judge yourself, you are condemning yourself to that attachment. Likewise, if you are craving to be free from it. It’s a very subtle paradox.
Know that it is possible to live without attachment. You are in power here. Actively engage, meet, explore, and process that attachment. If your attachment is cigarettes, allow yourself to go without. Even if you can’t go without it for a whole day, test yourself and smoke half as much. And importantly, observe what your reaction is, what your body’s response is. You don’t have to go cold turkey. This may work for some, but in effect, it is just brute force to achieve your aim. If you don’t confront the energetic of attachment, that which underlies attachment, the attachment is still and there will manifest in new ways.
Beware of going overboard. When you begin the process of non-attachment, you have to realize that it’s not about getting somewhere. It’s not about giving up cigarettes, this preoccupation or that. It’s about becoming aware of the tendencies, habits, decisions, and energetics already present in your body. It is possible to become attached to non-attachment just as anything else. Instead of rushing to drop every attachment, just continue to holding the intention to live a better way and keep becoming aware.
Watch for the second installment on “Attachment,” which will post in a few days.