Practicing the art of non attachment

I’ve been in Sri Lanka for 2 months now, and as the oldest continually Buddhist country, what better place to learn about attachment and the suffering it brings.

“Let go” is saying we often hear to help us along the path when it gets rough, tough and tangled.  But why exactly does “letting go” give us any respite from the pain, worry, anxiety and anger that can be aroused from a particular situation?

Buddhism talks about the root of all suffering being in the mind, and it is in the mind we experience the effects of our desires.

“Through desire we give rise to attachments. For every desire there is a corresponding attachment, namely, to the object of desire.

If we cling to the desire for things to be permanent, then we will develop strong attachments, and because of attachment we will suffer. This is the second of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha in the first sermon after his Enlightenment : "All suffering arises from desire."As a consequence, if we recognize rightly that all phenomena are subject to change and transformation, then there will be no room in our hearts for fear and worry.”

Simple, profound, yet oh so difficult to put into practice.  I am no zen monk, I have a family, friends and - why this seemed to feel so hard - I used to have a partner who I loved deeply.

For those of you that know me, you know of the struggle I have had letting go of a past relationship.  I have delved deep into the whys and hows, the ego versus the heart, the reactions and the disillusions, and the challenge of sitting still with my emotions.  Thankfully during this process my attention was brought to adult attachment theory.  Which held many answers.  For me, I have always been drawn to free spirits, but the flip side is these free spirits tend to be avoiding emotional intimacy and will bolt at any sign of the gap closing.  A pattern emerged but I did not recognise it, just seeing one failed relationship after the next.  For others, it may have been blindingly obvious, but when you’re in the thick of it is very hard to see the wood for the trees.  Having an anxious attachment means possibly getting triggered by you partner, and once you’re feeling anxious its very hard to get out of that state.  Being attracted to someone avoidant will guarantee they will never make you feel safe or secure, accuse you of being too needy and keep you in this anxious zone - where you are destined to push them away and ignite their aversion to communication and codependency.  Learning about styles of relating (with compassion), finding the techniques that work, the right people to support and choosing right (secure) partners is key.

One of the most powerful tools I also had during this time was yin yoga.  I heard somewhere you teach what you most need to learn, and after countless yin classes gently encouraging my students to: "Feel what it is you are feeling, do not judge, do not label, allow yourself to be" it was time to take my own advice.   Yes, I felt attached, hurt, broken, a sense of loss.  And it was ok.   

And in traditional Hatha Yoga (first 2 of the 8 limbs) The Yamas and the Niyamas include guidance on how to behave in a sattvic way and take the initial steps on the pathway to yoga. Ishvarapranidhana (within the Nyamas/observances) means to surrender.  And when we surrender to what is, rather than cling onto the outcome or our perceived future projection, we are perfecting this process of “letting go”.

Taking Buddhism, yoga and attachment theory into life…

Climbing Adams Peak allowed for the physical practice of non attachment, joining hundreds of pilgrims to tread the 5500 steps to the top of a scared mountain to a sacred temple said to house Buddhas footprint.  Would this experience bring me the enlightenment I was looking and hoping for?  No.  It would bring me irritation, sore calves, claustrophobia and impatience.

I was bemused that the essence of the Buddhas teachings were no closer to me here than at any other point in my life.  We started the long trek down, feeling heavier.  But to get down we followed a couple who knew a different route.  For 20 minutes or so, there were no people, no steps, beautiful views, plants and frogs, a friendly dog and silence.  We did not know that this way existed or that we would find it, and we weren’t even sure if we were on the right path, but it was stunning, it peaceful, it was all worth it, but it also only lasted for a very short time.  

And today it clicked; it is not about living without attachment but noticing when the attachment feels so strong it is stopping the flow of energy… something has to shift. 

When I can feel myself becoming too attached I imagine being a crab, hanging on tightly to a reed or seaweed with one of my pincers, refusing to go with the current of life.  I imagine taking the other pincer and snipping the plant just below where I’m holding so so tightly.  That moment is what I’m so afraid of, when there is no more control, the path is simply unknown and I’m swept away by the ocean and fate, but what happens next is what the Buddha talked about: I am free.

“In the end only 3 things matter: How much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you”

So it is not so much about being attached or not attached but about being able to appreciate the moments that happen as they do, letting them go once they are done.  This can be applied to relationships, people, jobs, money, our own body.  There is only one certainty in life: That everything changes.

“Recognizing the radical impermanence of life, Zen Buddhism suggests that we should not be too strongly attached to life, for if we are, we will find ourselves buffeted against the sharp rocks of change. Instead of living in the past and future, we should learn to live in the present as fully as possible. This moment, at least, we are alive, while we cannot be sure we will be alive tomorrow.”