Whenever I think of attachments, and whenever I think “this isn’t doing me any good”, I notice that there’s always some kind of guilt or anxiety that follows on from my recognition of these attachments. Especially when I’ve made the effort to give something up and failed, there has followed a feeling along the lines of, “I’m no good.”
We all know within Buddhism there is the idea that suffering exists due to our desires and attachments and so there may be an extra effort to rid oneself of attachment because we practice this religion or this philosophy that holds desire and attachment as the root of all our problems.
Nevertheless, our attachments exist and have done for an incredible amount of time. Humans are creatures of habit, we struggle to control our minds and we are at the whim of our desires; in short, whoever designed human nature sure has one hell of a sense of humour!
What I’ve come to realise (though it’s perhaps not exclusive to me), is that trying to get rid of attachments doesn’t work. That’s to say that simply to “decide” that you’re not going to be attached anymore to food or alcohol or drugs or sex or gambling and so on isn’t an effective solution to ridding oneself of attachments.
Thankfully, I don’t have an “addictive” personality: I can take or leave most things without feeling too bothered if I don’t have a particular thing (though of course, there are exceptions). However, I have known people who have had strong attachments or addictions and have repeated the cycle of deciding to give up > giving up > becoming re-attached > feeling like a loser because they failed in their attempt(s).
In a number of cases, even if a “cold turkey” approach has worked, the attachment left behind is simply replaced by another attachment. For example, I have one friend who stopped smoking and became addicted to working out at the gym. Some might say it’s a lesser evil, but attachment/addiction is a state of mind – overdoing anything is problematic…even drinking too much water will kill you.
In thinking about attachment, and from my own experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that attachments are best shed through a gradual process. I think Rasputin said the only way to beat desire is to firstly accept it.
When we decide we’re going to give something up and after a while we come back to it, in my opinion it is best to skip dwelling on the “I’m a loser” guilt-trip that we put ourselves through. Guilt, like worrying, is pretty useless. Instead, I think a conscious awareness of our negative habits is the best way in working towards ridding ourselves of attachments. Certainly, if one is unaware of a particular behaviour, it is impossible to do anything about it: how can you stop a problem if you can’t see it?
I’ve heard it said that when we do something habitual, something that’s negative, it’s wise to acknowledge the action, to consciously recognise it. In this way I suppose, our mind becomes increasingly aware of a frequent negative action and registers the damage it causes us or others, and therefore with time, the particular negative action (the attachment) lessens and eventually disappears.
In the Lojong, we’re advised to love our attachments, aversions and indifference. What I get from this advice is that, in “loving” our attachments, we come to understand them more and can engage and deal with them more effectively. In a way, it’s like dealing with people: if you really dislike someone and refuse to engage with them, you can never understand them and as a result, you fail to address the issues/problem related to that particular person as you see it.
If we can spend time contemplating our attachments and not try to push them away or suppress them, we have a much better chance of working towards dealing with them effectively. However, if all we do is punish ourselves because we have our attachments, we really don’t do ourselves any favours at all, because punishment never works when it comes to tackling deep-seated problems.
Rather, if we can watch our attachments and simply recognise any negative action when it arises and contemplate the motivation and the consequences born from that action with a calm and non-judgmental mind, we can start to loosen the grip of our attachments through time by applying logic and reason, instead of trying to freak out, force and panic our way to getting rid of our attachments – that has about as much affect as spitting on a fire to put it out.
Through a calm and non-judging approach, we simply come to see that our attachments really bring us no benefit. Sure, they might bring us short-term happiness and joy, but as we all know, it’s never long-lasting. And if we can remember that it’s OK to make mistakes and to slip up sometimes (without this becoming an excuse-mantra), we can come to allow ourselves the time we need to truly work on ourselves and transform our minds.
By realising that a lifetime of attachment isn’t going to go away within a month’s worth of practice, we can be kinder and bring benefit to ourselves by wholeheartedly accepting who we are, warts and all, and by presenting compassion not only to those around us, but also to ourselves as well.