“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddhism teaches us that all suffering comes from attachment. Does that mean all attachment is bad?
I have been dating, a very odd experience at my age, to be unmarried at 63. It took me a long time to want to date after my divorce, (5 years), but here I am. One thing I’ve tried to do, because I think I am oh so spiritual, is not become attached to any of the men I have dated.
That sounds kind of cold, does it not? But I think…it is not. What I’ve tried to do, is be mindful. When I am with someone, to give them my undivided attention, and time. But over time, do I not think that I might get attached to someone? I don’t know.
The last man and I messaged for months. He was not well, I kept him company. Finally we met, and we hit it off…it was just wonderful. We spent the day at a park on our first date, an old estate, on Long Island Sound, and the only reason the date ended was because the park closed. I keep saying I was not getting attached, that I was only enjoying the time with him.
But…then I’d check my phone for an email, or text, all the time. I wanted to hear from him. Isn’t that attachment, to a degree? I’m trying to understand the difference. There was a lot of desire, but that’s not attachment. And here’s the thing.
When I’m alone, I am fine with it. I don’t need a man with me every second, every minute. I don’t need to wake up with him every day, or go to bed with him every night. But….if I found myself missing this man when he wasn’t here, what is that?
If attachment causes suffering, was I suffering because I missed him? It wasn’t unhealthy. It wasn’t the kind of missing him where I was crying, or upset, I just enjoyed his company. We laughed all the time. I don’t laugh much when I’m by myself. But I didn’t feel that I needed him, just wanted him around. Just wanted to hear from him.
So…I don’t think I was attached. Or, was I? Or the better question is, does it matter?
When the relationship went south after a few weeks of bliss, I was sad, that it went south. We discovered some differences that we, or at least I, could not reconcile. He was, apparently, happy to remain as good friends, and have sex, and not evolve as a couple. I was not. Does that mean I was attached? No….because it was easy then, to say, we have to let it be, there is too much distance between us. There was no emotion overriding that, no voices talking in my head saying things like “But you’ll be alone again!” “He might find someone else!” “What are you going to do with yourself?” “You’ll have to start all over again.”
None of that came up. I was present every moment. The good ones I enjoyed. I enjoyed the relationship until it was not good. And when it became “not good” I was still present, but able to say, “it’s not good, and it can’t be solved, so love and light….”
He didn’t take it well….sadly. I wanted to remain friends, but that wasn’t possible this time. Funny, two men I’ve had relationships with, albeit short ones, both of them stated how they did not want to have a relationship, or fall in love, and both have gotten nasty when it became evident we were not good together. Perhaps, that is attachment. They were attached to an outcome, even if we were not on the same page, knowingly. I was not. I may get a little attached to the man, but not the outcomes, never.
I think that’s what causes the suffering with attachment. We get attached to the idea that this is the one. And we get so attached, we don’t want to let go, even when it’s bad for us. Even when that attachment makes us cry every night. Because I’ve been there too. Attached to the outcome that my marriage would last forever, that we’d grow old together, even when it was ruining my health.
It can be the outcome of any other situation in your life. Maybe you feel you are going to live in the same house forever but something happens to make you have to leave it. You have to let go. Maybe you dream of your children growing up and living near you and seeing you all the time, but then one of them moves to California when you live in CT, and you have to let go.
To be attached to your kids, well…hey, we are human. Of course we are attached to our kids. But can we let them go? Can we let them evolve, under their own power, following their own dream, and let go of the outcome we dreamed about all our lives?
As far as attachment being bad, because it causes suffering….well…there’s a whole ‘nother blog. There are those who would say that suffering is necessary, not good or bad. Just necessary. I am one of them. I think suffering is perhaps the birthplace of growth. One of my favorite quotes is from Kalil Gibran, “ ‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.’”
If you love someone, and you lose them, or they die, it hurts. For a long time. You miss them in your life, you miss the closeness, the connection. As long as you weren’t attached to the outcome, i.e. thinking they would be here forever, sure that you’d be together til old age, as long as you just miss them and hurt because you loved them….I think you’re ok.
It’s the outcomes. If we can just stay with the moment, enjoying the good ones, working through the bad ones….and letting go when we need to, the amount of suffering we will experience will decrease exponentially. We need to learn to say….”Love and light, all blessings to you” and wave goodbye when that is what serves us or the other person
I guess that doing that, being able to do that, happens when we realize that joy comes from within us. That everything we need is within us. When we learn to trust the universe, to trust the flow of our good intentions, believe…just believe…that it will all turn out ok. Live like water…….