So much of our society and culture is obsessed with attaching happiness to material things, status and achievement. I think about the people I know that actually have the most and often they seem to also suffer the most. Their constant pursuits of the material and the affirmation of a desired status really never ends, it’s insatiable and therefore a constantly moving target. Just like their happiness. They are interconnected in their mind. And when you are always chasing something outside yourself, you actually never truly “arrive” anywhere.
I have come to realize that while I may never have focused on a getting the boat, plane, car, watch, flashy toys, etc…I was just as guilty of placing conditions on my happiness. My conditions just had to do with situations, expectations or my emotional environment. Everything other than my own natural state of contentment. I was always, it seemed, attaching my happiness to things that were outside of myself.
It really didn’t matter whether it tied to something material or emotional. It was still an attachment. To an expectation. To a condition. To a situation I was trying to control.
That was me in the past…pursuing one goal after another, one ideal emotional situation or one desired life condition… until it all just became a blur. My life was one constant motion of pursuit and attachment to goals and expectations.
My meditation, mindfulness and buddhist practices have taught me that almost all of our own suffering comes by directing our thoughts in this manner. I see clearly now that if we don’t have attachment to anything, and are truly content to just experience life as it unfolds without judgement, expectation or need, we can live a much fuller, spiritual life.
And rather than move so quickly from one attachment to another, we simply, beautifully…live.
One of the most insightful, spiritual people I follow is Charlie Ambler of The Daily Zen. The guy’s writing is so insightful, personal and spiritual. He has tought me a great deal on my own journey of self-discovery and growth.
Some of my favorite quotes from him on attachment include…
“The desire to be right is nothing but another attachment, and it can ruin relationships. The ego is not real. Right and wrong are not real. All you have is yourself, the essential core of which cannot be communicated.”
“Those who wish to escape the present moment are unhappy. They create ideals, goals, and notions of progression by which those goals can be achieved. The paradox here is that, if you aren’t satisfied in the present moment, no amount of achievement or progress can possibly satisfy you. The present is all we have, after all. When we stake our happiness on an illusory future, we make present happiness all but unattainable.”
“The more you cling to the world and to external things, people, or ideas, the more you rely on this world for your sense of being.”
And finally, my favorite spiritual, inspirational teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers this amazing insight regarding attachment…
So I now see many of my own attachments I wasn’t really aware of…
-Attachment to expecting people to act in a certain way
-Attachment to the hope that a particular situation will turn out in a desired way
-Attachment to future events
-Attachment to emotions that weren’t my own
-Attachments to conditions of me obtaining happiness
And many, many more.
It’s not to suggest we don’t find joy in situations, experiences and relationships. Of course we do. That’s part of the beauty of being alive and living fully. But to really let go, surrender and not hold any meaning in our expectations and wants/desires, you can truly live a more freer existence.
When you look at the people in your life and don’t attach to their reactions, behavior or preferences, you simply just observe and appreciate them more as living their own particular journey.
Where you used to be disappointed in someone and you then decide to let go of that attachment, you see that person’s own suffering more clearly.
When you stop judging and accepting more, you learn to live a more freer existence without the constant narrative of commenting on other people’s own journey.
And when you no longer project happiness on future events, conditions or things, you learn to also live a much more mindful, present life.
These are all forms of attachment — the material, the situational, the emotional.
Charlie Ambler served up this wonderful quote on one of his blogs:
My main takeaway from this blog is to think of the things you are attaching your happiness to. The material and the emotional. And see those attachments as actually the things standing in the way of your true state of eternal happiness.
Place conditions on nothing. Live without attachments. And you simply are…happy.