“Never love something so much that you can’t let go of it.” ~ Ginni Rometty
Anything I become deeply attached to, I end up losing.
I’m aware that everything is impermanent and loss happens sooner or later—we will all lose people, belongings, jobs, places, beliefs, health, dreams. However, it appears to me that loss happens faster and breeds more pain when the object I’m losing is rooted in attachment.
I’m reminded of S.N. Goenka’s words from one of my Vipassana retreats. He says, “Grasping at things can only yield one of two results: either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you, yourself, disappear. It is only a matter of which occurs first.”
Goenka has put my exact experiences into words: I lose myself when I fear losing something or someone, and then I eventually lose them. As Goenka states, it’s only a matter of time which one occurs first.
Despite the suffering that loss breeds, I’ve realized that its occurrence almost always ensues liberation. In other words, we need to be attached so we can learn how to be detached. Having said that, I’m starting to think that perhaps the purpose of life boils down to one thing: a practice in detachment.
Before delving into the whys and the hows, I’d like to offer a short clarification on what it means to be attached since the word “attachment” has had various connotations throughout the years.
I know several people who argue that attachment is not a bad thing and one has to experience it because it gives our life and human existence a meaning. On the other hand, there are people who agree that attachment is indeed a bad thing and they become so detached that they become unhappy without knowing it.
For me, attachment is neither a good thing nor a bad thing—and it’s definitely not the sugar to our tea. Attachment can’t possibly sweeten our experiences when, at any given time, it has the capability of souring them.
Attachment is an experience (good and bad) that we must go through so we can liberate ourselves from it.
Now, what is attachment? To put it simply, attachment is the reliance and fixation that we put on certain people or things. With time, we—and our happiness—become dependent on them. Their presence or absence determines our state of mind. When this person or thing is present we may feel utter joy; however, when they’re absent we may feel profound agony.
Our emotions and opinions on the first encounter with people or things are usually always stable and regulated. But the moment we associate ourselves with what’s external is the when attachment starts.
This is how all attachment on earth begins: a mother to their child, the lover to their beloved, the pet to its owner, the addicted person to their substance, the believer to their beliefs, the ruthless to their power.
The birth of “my” and “mine” is the birth of attachment.
When we see a person or a thing as an extension of ourselves, we move from a stable emotional state to a rocky one. As humans, we are likely to protect what is related to us. Consequently, we fear to lose our object of attachment since it has become a part of ourselves.
When we wake up in the morning and feel that there is someone or something out there that makes us happy who is in our clutches, it is deeply satisfying. That is the trickiest part of being attached—satisfying emotions aren’t always a good indication of what we want because the bulk of them are vulnerability and dependence in disguise.
What often triggers attachment is the need to have a purpose in life and the desire to possess. But we’re oblivious to the fact that our purpose isn’t to experience possession or to validate our identity. Our purpose is to overcome them and experience the goodness of detachment so we can experience true love and connection with everything and everyone around us.
What does it mean to be detached? Things, people, pets, situations, opinions come and go—but amidst all of this confusion, we are fine. As Pema Chödrön puts it, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
We’re still human, we still feel, we still think, and get lost, we are free to laugh, or burst into tears, and hell yes we still deeply care. But our reaction is balanced and temporary. We own our reactions—not the reverse.
Instead of looking through the lens of “I” or “me,” we look through the lens of reality. And reality is that when things don’t go according to our plan, it’s okay. We react to the loss, but we don’t cling to the reaction and let it define us or our state of mind.
To be detached means we understand that our purpose is to be in tune with reality and not with our misconceptions. Detachment doesn’t imply apathy. On the contrary, we must experience pleasure and we must enjoy what life brings to the table. But we mustn’t cling to them and see them as a part of ourselves.
We should learn how to see people, places, and things as independent from us. The moment we turn them into a source of happiness is the moment we put ourselves up for disappointment because the truth is—nothing stays.
To perceive what is external as free from us is what frees us and the relationship we have to them. Then the love and the reverence we hold for that person or that thing becomes so genuine and prominent. In addition, we set ourselves free from extensive suffering. We could suffer so much when all our thoughts and energy are all set in one direction.
Love never enters the hearts of those who are controlled by fear. For instance, if you are scared to lose your partner, you might be mistaking love for attachment. You only love their presence in your life and the emotions they stir in you—and not simply who they are.
But when fear, control, and attachment fall away, what remains is reality. And, contrary to what we know, reality is beautiful with all its ups and downs.
Know that detachment doesn’t strip us of our emotions—it regulates them. The happiness that sane emotions ensue is not to be compared with the happiness that attachment breeds.
“If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.” ~ Robert Anthony