Intermezzo 9: Attachment
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
Attachment is a critical, fundamental cause of the suffering, or unsatisfactoriness that is often referred to in Buddhism.
It takes many forms: we are attached to our nation, our lineage, our religion, our education, our choice of diet and particularly our illnesses.
Most of all, we are attached to the notion that there is a separate entity, separate from all other entities, which is called me.
Strangely, no amount of serious investigation produces that me. I can find my foot and my liver and my thought and my emotion but the being that owns these attributes cannot be separately located anywhere. A whole book could be written on this subject and, in fact, many have but the upshot, if we allow ourselves to delve a little deeply – perhaps we would rather not? – is that what we thought was separate turns out to be an interaction between all forms arising from emptiness and none of them is intrinsically separate.
Nevertheless, we remain resolutely attached.
My take on this problem is something like this: I am attached to all sorts of things, I do not claim otherwise. If I try to get rid of my attachments, I am merely feeding the energy of attention into whatever I am trying to get rid of with nourishing results to the perceived problem. The result is fairly obvious.
If however, instead of being violent to myself, I can just compassionately bring the attachment into stark awareness and remove the judgements I hold, then a space arises in which the attachment can flower into something else.
For a therapist this can particularly apply to the desire to make someone well! That is a massive hook and the effect of the hook is to ensure that the energetic relationship between me and the client is one of striving not one of empty relaxed hearing. The hearing that is, in itself, healing. This kind of intervention comes from my, inevitably limited, view of how the client should be. If only I can present a space big enough that the client fully expresses, not necessarily verbally, the entirety of his suffering, not just the presenting symptom, then an inherent enlightenment comes into play and intelligence itself reveals. Not just my mechanical best intention. The client may then hear, perhaps for the first time, a revelation of her true being which is non other than an expression of emptiness. Sutherland’s, to my mind, greatest statement, “you can rely upon the Tide,” resonates with this.
When practitioners are drawn towards what may be called Spiritual work, they sometimes get into the false notion that somehow they should not be charging for their work. I offer them this:- we chose to be born into human form in a time and space where there is a perfectly valid definition of what right livelihood is. This definition has included, for several hundred years the idea that money is a means of exchange. That is all. It has no self-worth, it is a means of exchange and to not value, in current terms, what we are offering, is to devalue it. One of many examples we can find of “idiot compassion.” To rip people off is to rip people off. To demand a fair wage is just. To support the poor and needy is also just, where that is appropriate.
If you are led to life as a monk and you place yourself at the mercy and generosity of others to support you and you give them healing/wisdom in return, that is fair exchange. So it is if you use cash as that means. Please do not make a judgement about which is better.
Something similar arises when people are drawn to teach. “Am I ready, do I know enough, will I get caught out?” All these arise.
These are very valid questions if you want to teach arithmetic or motor mechanics. If you are drawn to something a little different, the only question is, “am I prepared to let go of that which keeps me separate from the students, Am I prepared to just be what I am. Can I share that.” Just as it is, without any judgement of good enough or not good enough. The attachment to “not being good enough” is enormously powerful. It has no substantiality, it is an attachment and the awareness of that opens possibility for change. The change that is at the heart of all phenomena.
If I can share that, the integrity of that will allow the student to realise (realize, make real or concrete; give reality or substance to; “our ideas must be substantiated into actions”) in the joint practice, her own integrity. At all levels; Spirit , Mind and Body.
We have touched here, very briefly, on the notion of Impermanence or Insubstantiality.
It is a massive subject and many people consider Impermanence to be negative. This is a very limited view as, like every thing else, there is another side. If good things are impermanent then, by the same token, so are bad things, (note the judgements in these adjectives!).
Here is my example, which may ring bells with those who know me; I do not have an Aston Martin DB7 (my favourite and massively costly, motor car). If there were permanence, I would never have an A-M. As nothing is permanent however, one day I might have an Aston Martin. What do you want? Ferragamo shoes. Lots of patients? To cure lots of patients? A better life? Sainthood? Be thankful for Impermanence!
Here is a little story from Carme Renalias in Spain which perfectly illustrates working with attachment, not trying to get rid of it;
In one of the practices we did, I felt myself going into a deeper and deeper level, I could feel myself not being my body, not being my feelings, not being even myself on this time, just being like everywhere and time did not exist. And then, I don’t know where it come from, the image of my children and all of a sudden I felt myself coming back and noticing I couldn’t dis-attach from them, the fear of losing them appeared.
I had been somewhere where I felt no attachment, no pleasure, no pain, just being, but the fear of losing my children was so strong that it caused me a lot of suffering, sadness to imagine letting go of my attachment to them. The sadness just was. It was important to experience it, because even though there was the suffering, I could see the path underneath suffering. From all being one, it become differentation, my children and myself, love become fear. It still moves me now while I am writing it, it makes me feel very humble and very gentle with myself.
In this life we become attached, to our family, our ideas, our teachers and as you said to our life… and we forget that all is one.
Please do not get attached to getting rid of attachment!