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Attachments- The root of Suffering

Teach me to Care, And Not to Care, was the title of one of John Lee's books that has stayed with me for years. How can I be caring for others and myself, while not betraying my values because of some core attachment? Attachment and it's varying threads and theories are vast. Freud & others developed attachment theory in the 1920's - Later in the early 80's John Bradshaw popularized another aspect of attachment in his work on codependency. Within these theories are the concepts that core beliefs about Self and the world are formed and impact our lives forever, especially when unconscious. My focus here is primarily from the Buddhist perspective- It is our attachments that cause us suffering.

I have a couple of dear friends that exhibit, what I judge as grounded maturity, where they will name what it is that they are attached to. For instance, they will say things like, " I notice that I have some attachment to; being significant, being liked, my arrogance, being right ( one of my favorites)..." Being able to own and acknowledge the often hidden attachment (shadow) releases and disempowers the attachment.

In the book, the Four Agreements by Don Migel Ruiz, the third agreement is to not take things personally. This makes perfect sense yet, can range from quite easy to very challenging for me. The more attached I am the harder it is for me to detach. Attachment grows proportionally with the investment to the relationship and how core the attachment is. For instance, if an acquaintance takes umbrage with me, I am less likely to have a strong reaction. However, if a best friend is disappointed or angry with me, I'm much more likely be triggered by my attachment to be liked which is often fueled by fear of abandonment. When triggered, we are no longer present to the current situation or person, we become regressed to an earlier time ( early childhood ) when the stakes were highest. From this regressed place I am no longer an adult, rather my inner child is activated. From this place my response is much more likely to be fueled by an attachment to be liked or to defend my position. This will likely lead me to either betray my true self in some form or be highly defensive, neither of which are effective forms of mature communication.

Identifying and then being able to voice our attachments are important skills in fostering healthy relationships which requires vulnerability. As a man living in a highly shame based culture, I have had to confront my attachment to belonging by avoiding vulnerability. For men the opposing forces to be authentic and the attachment to belong fuels us to do and put up with almost anything in order to not be shamed.

My most recent confrontation with this dynamic occurred with a couple of new pickleball friends. We had recently enjoyed considerable fun in our competitiveness and the ensuing good natured banter. Between games as we talked and hydrated, one man made a veiled homophobic comment. There it was, the moment of conflicting attachments- to be liked (excepted as one of the boys) and my attachment to my value for standing up for the marginalized and oppressed. At first, my attachment to be liked fueled my regression and my silence, not proud to say. However, at the next homophobic comment, I voiced my discomfort with that sort of talk. In this case, my attachment in being true to my values, while risking loss, was stronger than my attachment to being liked, and brought me back into integrity with myself.

Most recently, as I 'm about to turn 68 years old, I have been exploring my ageism and the accompanying attachments. Living in this culture that idolises youthfulness and disregards the elderly, I am confronted with internal and external messages of ageism. According to Connie Zweig author of "The Inner Work of Age- From Role to Soul, "Millions of people project what they fear about aging onto elders, trying to appear and act as if they are younger. Hence the epidemic of anti-aging marketing, advertising, pharmaceuticals, surgery, and hormone replacement therapy." Meanwhile, my internal messages, feelings, and ideas about "old" are slowly surfacing. For instance, when I learn of the death of anyone who is of similar age, I'm quick to ask the cause, so I can quickly distance myself from my own death, since I tell myself any combination of: "I'm in great shape, I eat well, I go to doctors..."

As a lifelong athlete I pride myself in my abilities to compete at a high level, yet at what cost and what is driving me? Can you hear my attachment to maintaining a young man's ageist attitude? Last week at Pickleball, I played all morning with a group of three other men of similar competitiveness. After three hours they wanted to play one more game. Noticing both my attachment to be the last man standing, a young man's code, and a deeper listening to my body, I choose to leave out of self care. Although pleased with my conditioning, and my decision to leave, I noticed the negative impact on my energy for the rest of the day, having played so hard for so long.

What attachments are you willing to name? Here's a partial list: to be right, the know it all, to be perfect, to be important, the victim, the funny one, having it all together, being nice, no one cares... Who are you willing to speak these attachments to within the next week? What attachment most frequently interferes with your relationships? How are your attachments diminishing your authentic expression? What does your inner agist feel / think about olders? What are your attachments to youthfulness?

Postscript: After the last several blogs I've received some feedback from readers about how the blog touched them and how they have brought the theme into their life is some form. Some of the feedback has come from people I didn't know they even received my blogs or emails which was rather touching. I invite hearing from you as to how the blog as spoken to you and if you have any future topics you'd like to read about. Blessings, Jody

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