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How the Concept of Non-Attachment Blew My Mind

“The root of suffering is attachment” — Buddha

When I first started studying the concept of attachment and non-attachment, I thought of things like minimalism. I didn’t want to be attached to too many things. One pivotal moment I remember was when I was parking my truck in a large parking garage with small parking spaces, and I hit the mirror against a large cement column. At first, it made me so angry. Then I got angry at myself for getting angry. I realized that I had gotten too attached to a material thing, so I sold my truck to a good friend who could benefit from it more than I.

Over the years, I’ve dug deeper into the concept of non-attachment, and have gained immense amounts of peace, power and purpose. Here are ten areas where I realized that I was attaching where it brought me personal suffering.

Attachment to expectations- An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen in the future. Think about it. Can we tell the future? We create a belief that something will happen will happen in the future, and when it doesn’t, we get upset. By learning to accept what happens, instead of what I expected to happen, I gain peace.

Attachment to opinions- We all have opinions. There is nothing good or bad about them. Opinions aren’t right or wrong. They are just our particular point of view. Many times, I’ve seen myself and others argue about who is right, when really, it’s just two different points of view. When I look at my opinions as my point of view, and hold onto them loosely, instead of trying to defend them, I can open myself up more fully to understand and appreciate another person’s point of view. This expands my perspective, and can even help me change my opinion.

Attachment to knowledge- Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. The tighter we hold onto what we think we know, the smaller the filter of confirmation bias becomes. Confirmation bias is how we judge new information, based on the current information we have. The more we think we know, the less we are able to learn. When we realize that none of us really know that much, we can open ourselves to a larger inflow of learning.

Attachment to outcomes- For much of my life, I have been goal driven. For many years, I suffered from ‘destination addiction’. I would set a goal, reach it, then look for the next big thing to accomplish. What I have now realized is that it’s not what I achieve by reaching my goals, but who I become as I reach my goals. Even when I miss a goal, I can look back with satisfaction at who I’ve become along the journey. As they say, success is a journey, not a destination.

Attachment to what others are doing- Author Byron Katie shared an insight that has proved powerful in my life. There is my business, other people’s business, and God’s business. I am in charge of only my business. When I worry about other people’s business or God’s business, of which I have no control, I cause myself grief.

I recently had an introductory call with a potential new client. I asked her to tell me about herself. She went on to list about 10 things that she was stressed about. Her mum had died 10 years ago. Her father got remarried faster than she wanted. Her grandparents died. Her health became worse. Her in-laws were rejecting being grandparents to her kids. She was suffering from anxiety, and so on. I explained the concept of my business, other people’s business, and God’s business to her, and we went through her list. The only thing that was her business was her anxiety. I told her if she stopped worrying about God’s business and other people’s business, her anxiety would go down as well. Just this simple explanation brought her an immense amount of peace.

Attachment to the past and the future- How much of our present time do we spend focusing on the past or the future? How much time do we live with regret or depression for something that we can’t do anything about? How much anxiety do we create about something that may or may not happen in the future? The more I have learned to stay present, let go of the past, and let the future take care of itself, the more powerful I have become. The only place of action is here and now.