Buddhism teaches us that attachment is the root of all suffering. In this context attachment refers to the clinging, craving, controlling and yearning that so many of us feel for people, places or things. Unfortunately this kind of attachment is very much a part of the human condition, however, the good news is there is an antidote. Over the past few years I have been learning, slowly and clumsily, the art of letting go.
For me when I think about attachment, two things immediately come to mind: expectation and control. When we feel attached to something, it’s different to loving something unconditionally or accepting something exactly as it is. Being attached is far more fear-based than that. When we are overly attached, it more often looks like wanting a person or thing to meet our expectations and when it doesn’t, trying to control that person or thing so that they do.
Signs that you are attached
- You find yourself wanting to manipulate or control a situation or person.
- You find yourself fixated on a specific outcome, refusing to accept what is.
- You feel anxious and stressed at the thought of your desired outcome not being realised.
- You find yourself worrying about the loss of something you haven’t even lost yet.
- You feel a sense of craving, obsession or fixation on a person, place or thing.
The last time I felt really attached was to my beautiful little pup, Charlie. Because I’d never had another being in my complete care before, I worried constantly that something bad was going to happen to her and I spent a lot of time trying to control her rather than allow her the freedom that was rightfully hers. I can’t help thinking that she was sent from God to teach me about attachment and letting go.
I encourage you to look at your life right now and be honest with yourself about any situations or people that you are trying to control or change. If there are (and there will be), then ask yourself how can I detach from this situation or person with love? That could mean something as bold as ending a relationship or quitting your job, but it might also mean simply accepting what is. Maybe your partner isn’t as thoughtful as you want him or her to be. You have three choices, stay with that person and try to change them, stay with that person and accept them for who they are, knowing that you can do nothing to change them or thirdly, accept that this relationship is not for you and move on. The first option is never going to bring you anything but suffering but sadly it’s the one that many of us take.
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Over the last three years, I’ve made it a priority in my life to understand attachment and to embrace letting go. Here are some of the things that I’ve learnt.
When we are attached we are operating from a place of fear and our concept of choice is severely limited, when I let go the sense of freedom and open space that comes in is exhilarating.
We can love something deeply and still set it free.
Often we equate letting go of something we love with losing it, but this is an illusion because it was never really ours to begin with.
“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” ~ Deborah Reber, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul
When we open ourselves to love something or someone, attachment on some level is inevitable. The extent to which we suffer is up to us.
We only ever have control over ourselves, our own thoughts, our own actions, our own choices and our own reactions.
When we can accept what is, suffering ceases.
When something or someone hurts us, we can detach with love.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we have to stay in situations that don’t serve us. We can accept a situation or a person fully and still walk away.
“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Letting go brings real peace.
During a beautiful conversation with a beautiful friend earlier this year, I decided that this year was going to be a year of letting go, for me.
He sent me this beautiful poem*:
Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of fear.
She let go of judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She just let go. She let go of all the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that. In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
Here’s to giving ourselves the gift of letting go…
There’s only one guru ~ you.
I had to smile when I read this poem and wonder if I could insert the line:
She didn’t write a blog post about letting go.
Except I did and that’s okay. Please share this post if you think it could benefit someone you know. I’d also really love to hear from you in the comments about your experiences of attachment and letting go, don’t be shy.