Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pain of Attachment

I think I'm starting to get it. Starting, mind you. I'm certainly no expert, and I'm only barely "living" it, but. I'm starting to understand the Buddhist principle that attachment brings pain.

I remember one evening in college, over coffee with a professor, railing about this idea. How could you not be attached!? Attachment is how you express passion! What would life be without attachment?? She smiled and said that detatchment was a journey, that no one expected a mere human being to be completely detached. I still thought it was all hogwash.

Gretchen Rubin, who studies happiness, talks about it in social science terms as re-framing. Library fines: a shame and a bother, or a small fee for an amazing resource?

Eckhart Tolle take a more spiritual bent, discussing "radical acceptance." Can you accept each moment for what it is? That's the beginning of the spiritual journey.

I came up with a pretty good formulation several years ago:
If I am complaining, it is a sign that I either need to
a) change the situation, or
b) change my attitude towards the situation.
It's the serenity prayer, as rendered by a technical writer.

But it's only recently that I've started to recognize the pain, and see that it's directly attached (har har) to the attachment, and for me the attachment comes in this form: wanting things to be different.

Wanting a spend-thrift friend to be budget-minded. Wanting my house to sell quickly in this market. Wanting my boss to understand my career aspirations better than I do. Wanting DC weather to feel like Seattle. If I focus on any of these things long enough, I can induce a fair tizzy of anxiety, depression, rage, and yes, pain.

I guess my magic formulation is missing the "wisdom to know the difference" part. I think I should be able to change these things, if I just work hard enough. I'm attached to the idea of the thing changing, and I'm attached to the idea of my efficacy in changing it. Why, hello brick wall--we meet again.


Anonymous said...

sometimes, though, things actually do change.....evn if due to wild fate and seeing a sign on a fence. You go wonderful more way to keep in virtual touch.

roo said...

I'm still struggling with this one myself. How do I stop wanting what I can never get? Intellectually, I've got it all figured out. But emotionally? Another question entirely.