When You Need to Let Go

Meditation Helps Us With Our Attachments

Posted Jul 22, 2012

One of the strongest attachments that I’ve ever had in my life was with my high school sweetheart. After a series of breakups that took place during and after our college years, we finally called it quits once and for all. I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again,” and “Will I ever find anyone else I’ll spend my life with?” For a long time, my heart felt broken. I couldn’t envision anyone being able to replace her. Fortunately, I did move on and I’m currently very happily married and love my wife very much. Nevertheless, it took awhile to break free of the attachment to my ex-girlfriend. In this blog post, we’ll explore attachments and why they cause suffering.

The Only Thing Permanent in Life Is its Impermanence

The one thing that for sure is going to happen is that we are all going to die. The other thing that for sure will happen is that circumstances will change: We get jobs, we lose jobs, we start relationships, we end them, we are young, and we grow old—life is in a constant state of flux.

Imagine you were floating down a river. Life is going well and you move along with the currents. Now imagine that you stood up and said, “I don’t want anything to change, I want to stay right here!” The river would push against you and you would suffer.

Attachments are like this; we want what we want and once we have it, we want it to stay the same. We say to ourselves, “I need this" or "I have to have this or else I’ll be unhappy.” Any attachment we hang onto that we insist can't change—whether it’s our health, our beauty, or our relationships—will cause us to suffer.

Some may say, “I’m happily married and I plan on being this way for years to come.” That’s wonderful, but one of you will most likely die before the other and that means if there’s too much attachment, there will be suffering. I’m not suggesting to reject love; loving is important. But when we say “I have to have this!” we’ll suffer.

Preferences Versus Attachments

A far better approach in life is to say, “I prefer to have this” For example, let's say that you walked into your favorite restaurant. You’re excited to have a particular dish. Unfortunately, the kitchen ran out of it. On the one hand, one approach is to say, “What? This is terrible! I wanted that and now you’ve ruined my day!” This reaction is a result of an attachment.

On the other hand, you can ask,“Well what do you have?...Ok, that sounds pretty good.” This reaction is a result of not being attached to that particular meal you wanted. In the end, you had your preference, but you were still happy with the other options you were given. Thus, it’s fine to have certain preferences, but when things have to go a certain way, then suffering usually occurs. I explore this complex topic in my book, Living a Peaceful Life. For now, I’ve really just touched the surface, but I think you get a glimpse of how attachments can cause suffering.

Meditation: The Attachment Buster 

The next question is, “How can meditation help me be free and not suffer from my attachments?” I believe one of the key benefits of meditation is learning how to live in the present moment. There’s just so much mind chatter going on in our brains all day. Meditation teaches us to quiet our minds. Because our attachments come from our minds, when there’s no mind chatter, then there are no attachments. All, and I do mean all, of our attachments come from mind chatter. So if we learn to quiet our minds, we learn to just be, live in the present moment, and the attachments disappear. I can prove this theory.

Imagine someone who’s very, very sad because she wants to be in a relationship. Hannah walks into a movie theater with a friend and during the film she forgets about her worries, her fears, and her thoughts of “I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life. I wish so much I was in a relationship.” The mind chatter she hears all day depresses her, but it has disappeared while she was enjoying the movie. As she exits the theatre, she sees a couple walking hand in hand in front of her, and her mind chatter resumes. Once again, she becomes fixated on her need to be in a relationship.

Again, it’s very important for us to understand that ALL of our suffering comes from our attachments. Our attachments are created, are fueled, and are maintained by our thoughts. If we don’t have our thoughts, we won’t suffer. Of course, throughout our lives, we'll continue to have thoughts, but what meditation does is teach us to quiet the mind. It teaches us to be present and control them so that they don’t run wild.

When we meditate, we follow our breath, our prayer word, or our mantra, and a thought arises. What do we do? We go back to our prayer word, our breath, or mantra. Again, another thought comes. And we go back to our breath, and so on.

Over time, meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts even when we’re not meditating. When we witness a negative attachment, we identify it, and then we just get back to living life. When the attachments kick in, the key is to just get back to living life. Be with your friend, do your work, watch nature—whatever it may be. When we learn to live in the present, to flow with life, life goes well.

Grieving Versus Attachments 

As a therapist in private practice, I encourage all of my clients to grieve when painful events occur—it's a very important emotion. But there’s a big difference between attachments and grieving. When we lose someone or something that we love, we need to go through the grieving process. But for most people, grieving is extended and though part of the time is spent grieving, most of it is spent dwelling on the attachments. 

How do you know the difference between the two? When you are truly grieving you will feel better at the end of the grieving sessions. The tears will flow and you’ll feel better. But when you’re attached you won’t feel better; you’ll just be thinking negative thoughts and you’ll be stuck.

When Attachments Arise, Get Present

When we realize that our thoughts create the attachments and we can quiet our minds, be still, and be present with the now through meditation, then we can start implementing our meditation practice to help us with our attachments. Use your meditation time to work through your attachments by focusing on them and then get back to just being. When the attachments come—and they will come—return to the present moment. When fears or desires arise, remind yourself that they’re merely thoughts, and that they’re causing you to miss out on the here and now. With regular practice, you’ll begin to experience less of both.