3 Life Lessons Learned from Attachment
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” -Henry David Thoreau
Attachment is at the root of most of our modern experience. As Shakespeare said, the expectation facet of attachment is also the root of all heartache. We’re taught to long for a life we must strive for years to achieve. The lives of celebrities and powerful politicians are held in high esteem, while most of us are simply left out of the history books. We are taught to attach ourselves to external modalities of success and achievement. To be happy, the story goes, we must be rich, decadent and status-driven. To succeed in relationships, we must pour out our hearts and give yourself up to others. This is not the case.
Most of our most severe emotional responses are rooted in attachment. People devote decades of their lives to material success, and stay in unhealthy relationships out of fear or desperation and convince themselves it’s all worth it just for The Goal. Then they achieve The Goal and don’t know what to do with themselves, and thus the dissatisfaction persists. Attachment to unattainable ideals is arguably the most unhealthy addiction of them all. It involves staking your sense of worth on factors that are either outside your control or non-existent.
We’ve all been slaves to attachment, and we can all take conscious measures to tone down our reliance on outside influences and material achievements. Some lessons to be learned:
You’re in control
Attachment is purely psychological. This realization seems obvious with the practice of empathy; each individual has entirely different goals. What means the world to you could mean absolutely nothing to the guy sitting next to you in traffic. What he values could be something you’ve never even thought of. Your personal conditioning is unique and results in whatever set of ideals you find yourself clinging to. Question your attachments; write down your reasons for your goals and why you care so much about certain things. Realize you are in control of what you want and that the more you want, the less you will feel you have right now.
Your thoughts are powerful.
Our thoughts do determine our lives. This is not to be interpreted in the remarkably fallacious bullshit law-of-attraction sense, in which the poor and underprivileged somehow willed their suffering upon themselves. That is entirely the wrong idea. Your thoughts have the power to change your situation internally without ever having to change anything externally. I know multi-millionaire trust fund babies who are absolutely miserable people with no prospects and no values. I also know people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, impoverished, who cherish their day-to-day experience and are truly happy. It is entirely a matter of perspective. You cannot always be held accountable for your external circumstances, but you must take responsibility for your own mindset. What happens to you matters less than how you deal with it and how you think.
What separates us humans from the beasts often makes us act even worse than the beasts. Our capacity for reason and emotional depth can lead us astray, though learning to master the mind to the best of one’s ability is a journey worth pursuing. Realize that your attachments and sufferings are what make you human, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take small steps towards questioning them and ultimately brushing them away.
Think of the old saying, “If you love something, set it free.” If you spend your days running through fields searching desperately for butterflies to force to land on your shoulder, once a butterfly actually lands on your shoulder you will be so miserable and exasperated that the ends could not possibly justify the means. Better to take cues from nature. Learn symbolically from trees and plants. Allow time to brush over you rather than kick you in the ass. Do not take yourself too seriously. Realize your attachments are entirely reliant on your worldview. And, most importantly, enjoy yourself.
|Written on 1/7/2014 by Charles Perlis. Charles Perlis is a college student in New York City and runs The Daily Zen, a philosophically-influenced self-improvement blog. You can also connect with Charles on Twitter at @dailyzen. When he isn’t studying and writing he enjoys playing drums, taking photos and cycling.
Photo Credit: donireewalker