What are attachments? How can they cause us suffering and how can meditation help with our attachments?

First, what are attachments? Simply put, attachments are anything that we need in order to be happy. “I have to have this or I will not be happy. Without this person or without this accomplishment, I will not be happy. I need it. I need it, period.”

Let’s look at an example. Probably the strongest attachment that I’ve ever had in my life was with my high school sweetheart, many, many years ago. We began dating when I was a senior and she was a sophomore. I moved out of state for my first year of university and we broke up. We really hadn’t been dating long so, though I really missed her, I was okay at that point. But then during my second year of university I transferred back to a university near my hometown. My ex-girlfriend and I started dating again and, again, it went well. I had hopes that someday we would spend our lives together. Then when I was a junior in university she applied and started attending the same university that I was attending. At first things went pretty well but then things changed and our relationship ended. The breakup was very, very sad for me. I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again; if I’ll ever find anyone else I’ll spend my life with.” It was just very, very painful for me and I really, truly missed her. Of course both of us moved on and started dating other people with time. But for a long time my heart felt somewhat broken. I was so attached to her, because she really was in many ways my first love. I was so attached to her that losing her was just so very painful and I couldn’t envision anyone being able to replace her. Of course I did move on and many years later I’m very happily married and love my wife very much. But it took a long time to break free of this attachment.

So let’s explore attachments and why they cause suffering. There are very few guarantees in life. The one thing that for sure is going to happen is that we are all going to die; but the other thing that is probably going to happen is that things are going to change. Life is full of change. We get jobs, we lose jobs, we have relationships that end, we are young, we grow old; life is just in a constant state of flux and change. The only thing permanent in life is its impermanence. In simpler words; life changes, period.

So if we use a metaphor of life being like a river flowing down a stream and as we are flowing down that stream it goes pretty well; but anytime we stand still in that stream and say “I don’t want anything to change, I want to stay right here” the river pushes against us and it causes us suffering. If we flow with life, life goes well; but when we try to stay in one place in a river that’s flowing there will be suffering. Attachments are basically like that river; we want what we want and we want it to stay the same. We need this, we have to have this or we will be unhappy; we will suffer. So any attachment that we hang on to, whether it’s our health, our beauty, our relationships, whatever it may be; if we say “this can’t change” it will and we will suffer. Some people may say, “Well, 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 first and that means if there’s too much attachment there, there will be suffering. What I’m not suggesting is to not love; loving is important, loving deeply. But when we say “I have to have this” we’ll suffer. A far better approach in life is to say, “I prefer to have this.” So when you walk into a restaurant and they have the meal you want, you’re excited; but if they don’t have it, then you say “Well what do you have? Okay, that sounds pretty good.” You weren’t attached to absolutely having to hve that particular meal you wanted and in the end were still happy with the other options you were given. A person who’s attached to a certain outcome will say, “What? This is terrible! I wanted that and now you’ve ruined my day!” They’re attached to a certain outcome. Yes, it’s okay to have certain preferences but when things have to go a certain way then suffering can and often does occur. I talk about this in far more complexity in my e-Book and audio book Living a Peaceful Life; I’ve really just touched the surface here but I think you get a glimpse of how attachments can cause suffering.

The next question is, “How can meditation help? How can meditation help me be free of or not suffer from my attachments?” There are many benefits of meditation and I’ve talked about many of them throughout my years of practicing and teaching meditation. I believe one of the keys, if not the key benefit 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 long. Meditation teaches us to quiet our minds and our attachments come from this mind chatter. When there’s no mind chatter, then there are no attachments. All and I do mean all of our attachments come from the mind chatter that’s going on all day long. So if we learn to quiet our minds, we learn to just be and live in the present moment and the attachments disappear. I can prove this theory.

Let’s take for a moment someone who’s very, very sad because perhaps they want so very much to be in a relationship and they’re not in one. They walk into a movie theater with a friend and during that movie they forget about their worries, their fears, and their thoughts of “I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life. I wish so much I was in a relationship” all of this mind chatter they hear all day that makes them so sad and unhappy has disappeared while they’re enjoying the movie. When they come out of the movie they see someone else in a relationship, a happy couple together, and their mind chatter begins again. Once again they become very sad and fixated on that idea that they want and 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 we will have thoughts but what meditation does is teach us to quiet the mind. It teaches us to be present and control our thoughts so that our thoughts don’t run wild. When we witness a negative attachment, we witness it and then we just get back to living life. It’s a lot like when we meditate; you follow your breath or your prayer word or your mantra and a thought comes. When that thought comes what do we do? We go back to our prayer word, our breath, our mantra. Again, another thought comes and we go back to our breath, and so on.

In the same way, as we’re living our life when the attachments kick in and they cause us suffering, 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 life, to flow with life, life goes well.

I’m not negating the importance of grieving. When we lose someone or something that we love, of course we need to go through the grieving process. However, for most people this grieving process is very extended and though part of the time is spent grieving, most of the time is spent with the attachments. There’s a big difference between attachments and grieving. When you are grieving you will feel better at the end of the grieving sessions. The tears will flow and you’ll feel better. When you’re attached you won’t feel better; you’ll just be thinking negative thoughts and you’ll be stuck. 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 the time during meditation to focus on the attachment but then get back to just being. When the attachments come, and they will come, just get back to being. When you’re living your life and you start fearing, being afraid, desiring something so much that it is causing you to miss out on the here and now just be present. Meditation is a way to help us to live our lives well.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a meditation expert, international speaker and the creator of the weekly Meditation For Health Podcast, available at http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com He has a weekly podcast that explores the world of Happiness at http://www.HappinessPodcast.org He also creates a weekly podcast that explores the world of Enlightenment available at http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com He also has a blog at http://www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com If you would like to contact Dr. Puff, his e-mail address is DrPuff@cox.net