I’ve been thinking about non-attachment.
When we discussed Buddhism in high school, I thought non-attachment sounded very sterile, like it encouraged people to not care about anything. This was a misunderstanding on my part, of course. Any religion that talks so much about compassion and loving-kindness isn’t about the not caring. It’s more complicated than that, and it has to do with our relationship with desire.
We are not always going to get everything we want. When we do get one thing we want, then we want something else. Sometimes we get caught in a trap of thinking, if only I had blah blah blah (where blah blah blah can be a certain type of career, a certain type of relationship, a certain level of health, a certain amount of money, etc. etc.), then everything would be perfect. My life would be complete.
But that generally isn’t so. We get a certain amount of money, and then maybe our health goes down the tubes. We get a certain type of career only to realize we really want to go up another tier or do something else altogether. Our health improves, and then maybe a close friend gets sick, or she moves away and then we miss her and busy ourselves thinking, if only I had more friends. We desperately wish for something in the future, but we can’t be sure of the outcome.
And sometimes we simply don’t get what we want at all. We can’t quit that irritating day job. Our family won’t stop making demands on us that we can’t meet. We have a chronic health condition. We get laid off, we don’t get into the program that would have made all the difference, we can’t afford this workshop or that trip or those material goods.
Right this second my back hurts and I want it to stop hurting. Sometime soon I’ll stop typing and do a few stretches and exercises, and it will probably feel a little better. But that won’t last. Over time I can strengthen my back so it feels more better more of the time. But really I want the pain to stop now, and permanently, with no effort. I’m not going to get what I want. These little moments of not getting what we want happen all the time.
Which is where non-attachment comes in. I think of it as the acceptance of thwarted desire. It’s the awareness that this is our reality, that we want and yet we’re not going to get everything we want. And that it’s okay that this is true. We will want something, and then that wanting will eventually pass. It might take a long time to do so, or it might not. Everything changes, and changes, and changes again. And the more we can be aware of this movement, and even embrace it, the less suffering we will experience.
At least, this is what I’ve been thinking about. Sitting with the feeling of desire, which keeps coming up. Watching it, and the emotions it often comes with, and remembering this is just one moment. I think it helps to be aware of what’s going on and allow ourselves to pay attention to that experience. But if you want a whole list of great suggestions of how to practice and think about non-attachment, read what Lori Deschene has to say about it.
What do you think?