Buddhism often talk about attachments to things in the world, and how this creates suffering.
But is that really what is going on? What is it an attachment really to? And what is an attachment?
When I explore this for myself, I find that what appears as an attachment to things in the world is something a little different.
Any attachment is to a story only. And this attachment is really an identification with a story.
The core story is that of an I with and Other, which is then fleshed out with other stories.
And I am identified with these, I take myself as these stories. I am this I with an Other, I am a living being, an object in the world, has a certain gender, age, from a specific ethnic background, has certain interests, skills, values, and so on.
I believe I am this human self, so am naturally attached to its well-being and aliveness. (Nothing wrong with that, although the added drama around it may be uncomfortable.) I believe people shouldn’t lie, so am attached to people speaking the truth. I believe a certain type of food will give me comfort, and that I need comfort, so appear attached to that food. I believe an intimate relationship will give me nurturing I cannot find any other way, and that I need that nurturing, so I am attached to having intimate relationships.
Our stories about what is and what should be often do not align, so attachments to stories create a sense of drama and discomfort. This is of course fine. But eventually, there may be an impulse to take a closer look at what is going on, and explore working with attachments.
One way of working with attachments is to explore impermanence.
Exploring impermanence has two effects. It invites in a disidentification with stories. And also a realignment of the stories we use in daily life, whether we are identified with them or not, to more closely reflect impermanence. In both cases, there is a release of attachment to having things a particular way. There is less of a war with what is, as Byron Katie says. (Although she uses a direct inquiry into the beliefs themselves, not this particular approach.)
We can explore it outside of stories, through directly see impermanence in the different sense fields. By getting familiar with impermanence in this way, we see that our stories are not true so there is a disidentification with them, and the stories we use realign as well. (This one is important for the disidentification part, less so for the realignment.)
We can also explore impermanence within stories, the impermanence of the universe, earth, humanity, civilizations, individuals, relationships and so on. This helps us realign our stories, and the larger perspective can also give a certain disidentification with stories. (This one is important for the realignment part, but maybe less effective for the disidentification.)
And we can investigate stories directly. We find a should which clashes with our stories of what is, and take it to inquiry. Is it true? What happens when I believe it? Who would I be without it? Can I find the truth in its turnarounds? This invites identification to be released out of the story.
A third way of releasing identification out of stories is to notice what we already are. We can use the sense fields to explore impermanence, see how all content of awareness comes and goes. But something does not come and go. What we really are does not seem to come and go. What is it? What is it that does not come and go? Or we can use the headless experiments to find ourselves as a no-thing full of whatever happens, or the Big Mind process to find ourselves as Big Mind.
There are of course lots of ways to explore attachments. These are just the ones I happen to be most familiar with right now.
So a quick summary:
- Attachments to situations or things in the world creates drama and suffering, because everything is living its own life and is in flux. We get what we don’t want. We don’t get what we want. We don’t lose what we have but don’t want. We can’t hold onto what we want to keep.
- This attachment is really an attachment to stories about what is and should be. And this attachment to stories is really an identification with them.
- We can work with this in two ways. First, by realigning the stories we use, whether we are identified with them or not, with everything living its own life, on its own schedule, and being in flux. Then, by inviting identification to release out of these stories altogether. Realignment without disidentification only works up to a point since the world always will show up differently from our stories about it. There will be a certain amount of drama and discomfort left. Disidentification without realignment will release the drama out of it, but the stories our human self uses in its daily life will not be as closely aligned with the world as they can be. Both are important.
- And there are several tools for working with attachments in these ways. One is The Work which directly addresses the beliefs, broadens the scope of stores we have available to us through the turnarounds, and invites in a release of identification with the stories. Another is exploring impermanence through the sense fields, which invites in a release of identification with stories, and some realignment of these stories. And we can also find ourselves as that which is already free from identification with stories, through headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or finding ourselves as that which does not come and go in the midst of all content of awareness coming and going.