The word “attachments” is strange.
On the one hand, it is totally innocuous.
For example, my smart phone has lots of attachments.
It has power cords and earbuds and speakers and a fancy screen protector and a shiny hard case and this little gizmo on the back that helps me keep hold of it while I am moving about.
These are not the kinds of attachments either of us tend to do well without.
But then there are other types of attachments.
For instance, there is the type that makes us feel excessive fondness for something….or for someone.
A good example here is my little interspecies family trio. I am excessively attached to Pearl, my 21-year-old cockatiel, Malti, my redfoot tortoise, and Bruce, my rescued 3-toed box turtle.
I am so fond of these particular three beings that even when I am in gatherings populated by my own species, it is not uncommon to find me staring at my smart phone (the very same with all the attachments from above) scrolling through pictures and videos of Pearl, Malti and Bruce.
It is all the cuteness, you see.
And then there are still other kinds of attachments.
There are attachments to people, like parents and partners and the much-smaller people many of us make with our partners.
There are attachments to places, like our most and least favorite places to live, work or vacation.
There are attachments to things, like money and vehicles and the stuff that is even now sitting quietly in our closets and storage units.
Some of these attachments are pretty easy to relinquish, at least in theory. Others are less easy. Some are difficult. And some feel literally impossible to give up.
There are even more kinds of attachments. There are the kind that health professionals often write about, like secure attachments, insecure attachments and so forth.
Speaking of which, over the decades as I have continued to learn about and practice meditation, I have read many different books and articles that mention how helpful it can be to just give up your attachments.
It is so freeing!, they say. You will feel so much better!, they claim. Just do it! Ha.
Have you ever tried to let go of wet superglue? Remarkable how quickly that stuff dries.
Superglue is very, very secure.
Of course this isn’t what is meant by the term “secure attachment.” Rather, this term describes a grounded, healthy, safe type of attachment.
But is any type of attachment ever really safe and secure? No matter how great it might be while it lasts, nothing lasts forever. People and pets, well, they pass. Moths find favorite sweaters and make more baby moths with them. Good fortune crests and falls and the ebb and flow of life continues with or without our detachment from it. We can fight against it or flow with it and it is going to happen either way.
Which brings me back to meditation and the quest to relinquish attachments, good, bad and otherwise. I would really like to do this and I often try. I never succeed.
The subject of attachments is particularly on my mind this month as I reach and pass the one-year anniversary of parting ways with my longtime love.
I am proud of myself! There was a time, and not so long ago at that, when I literally didn’t think I could survive us being apart. And certainly up until a year ago, I couldn’t easily visualize for myself any life worth living without him in it.
But then I woke up one day and realized my attachment to him was killing me. It wasn’t killing my body, but it was most certainly holding a big thick pillow down over my spirit. I could no longer be me and also be part of me and him.
So I opened up my hands (claws, talons) and let go. At least in theory.
I knew grieving would be challenging and I didn’t want to do it. But I also knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was with him. So I let go into the absolute unknown and there were some days I had to arm wrestle myself to stay the course.
At the one-year mark, I look back and know for sure it was worth it. But I don’t see any non-attachment.
Instead, what I see surprises me. I see an even deeper attachment to myself. To my surprise, I now realize it was this even deeper attachment to myself – a loyalty I didn’t realize was there – that finally insisted we go our separate ways. I was losing myself by staying attached to him.
Yet nevertheless, I am still attached to him. I still think about him a lot. I still pray for him a lot. I still wish him well. I still think about the things he taught me and the experiences we had together and I still wonder how he is doing and I wonder if he ever thinks about me.
And if he does, I hope the thoughts he thinks are kind.
In attempting to let go of one superglue-level attachment, I instead grabbed hold of an even stronger attachment in its place. And now I truly believe it was only my even stronger attachment to myself that gave me the brute inner strength, the guts, to release at least the outer form of my attachment to my ex-partner.
Perhaps attachment is just in our nature, hard-wired into our operating system as an essential part of our ancient survival system. Maybe it is even all that is standing in between us and never making it past day one of a new life here on this round blue planet.
I rarely talk about it now, but there was a time when I really wanted to live a life of attachment – to the level that I wanted to be, tried to be, a monk. I even lived in an ashram for a year and I tried so hard while I was there to detach and I failed wildly at every single turn.
As I sit here now, typing this out while watching my Pearl happily chirping as he eats his evening rice, I cannot imagine how I ever thought that would work for me.
What I mean is, without attachment, I don’t think I would want to get up in the morning. Sometimes I wonder if I even could.
The truth is, I get up in the morning so I can enjoy my attachments big and small. That includes my attachment to my trio, my family and friends. It includes my attachment to self-evolution, inner and outer, and my attachment to my still-unfolding quest to be like my mentors, who are the best homo sapiens I know.
It also includes my attachments to my coffee maker, my jasmine-scented candles, my comfy couch, my creative writing projects, my hopes and dreams….you get the idea.
Attachment is everywhere I look. It is either the lifelong weed in my garden that I cannot get rid of or the long common thread running throughout the tapestry of my life….or both.
Not only am I not sure it is possible to renounce attachments, but I am also no longer sure I want to.
Now, I do think it is possible to shift attachment. It is also quite possible that doing so can bring greater health and happiness – just like I did by shifting my attachment away from grabbing hold of my ex-partner to grabbing hold of my own self instead.
And this has been a quite beneficial long-term (if quite painful short-term) shift in my life.
But looking back now over the last year, I realize I didn’t earn myself one iota of non-attachment by making such a shift. I simply changed one set of less-healthy attachments for a different set of more-healthy attachments.
This makes me wonder if perhaps attachment is just the nature of being alive – and the only detachment that is even possible is to shift into more of a witnessing of all our different attachments and an acceptance of their presence and roles in our life, rather than a full-on letting go.
Now, despite all that time in the ashram pretending to be a monk, I am no spiritual scholar. Reading some of the dense scriptural texts I encountered during that time period in my life felt a lot like reading the dictionary (or a not-that-concise history of tax law) in another language. I didn’t understand much.
All that to say – I freely admit I may have missed a subtle nuance or few in the instructions for how to renounce attachments and keep them renounced and find a happier, healthier life because of it.
Yet I just feel like if I truly let go of all my attachments, and especially the attachments that ground me to the experience of being this person named Shannon who is having this particular life experience right now, today, and for the rest of my life, the entity I know and recognize as “me” might actually float away.
What do you think?
With great respect and love,