In our study of our own attachment, being aware of a sense of urgency about anything is worth noting. Urgency is the inner pressure of having to own, to be, or to do. It is the burning need to get a desire met. When desire is strong enough, attaining the object of our desire seems absolutely necessary. Urgent clinging or desperate grasping is attachment and thus is suffering.
Attachment can also be recognized in the form of anxiety. If we can approach the mind state of anxiety without aversion, and with curiosity, awareness of anxiety can lead to a deeper understanding. Awareness of anxiety reveals the belief that it can offer accurate information. It is beneficial to form the intention to avoid acting when anxiety is happening, because thoughts of anxiety cannot be depended upon. Anxiety manifesting as a thought is also a thought, and the thought does not need to be believed.
"Anxiety manifesting as a thought is also a thought, and the thought does not need to be believed."
Look closely: How does attachment manifest itself? What does it look like, what does it feel like in the body? What is the Dharma medicine? There are three different ways of approaching and working with attachment dependent on the form the attachment takes, three distinct kinds of medicine in response to each expression of attachment.
One form of attachment is the effort to sustain pleasure, to hold on to it, to make it last or last longer. This kind of attachment includes a sense of urgency. We want to own and possess. The Dharma medicine for this type of attachment is to practice nondwelling, ease, and spaciousness. While aware of what we are attached to, we practice including other elements of present moment experience as well. When we are trying to hold on to something, we tend to isolate it as something special. When we see something as special, we cling even more. The Dharma medicine is to minimize the tendency to isolate and to perceive what we are attached to as more important than whatever else is happening in life in this moment. In this regard, a wise question to ask is: What else is happening right now?
"When we are trying to hold on to something, we tend to isolate it as something special."
Attachment also appears in the form of rejection and judging. When an experience is unpleasant, our instinct is to try to push it away and get rid of it and to dwell in resistance and aversion. This is natural, but it does not alleviate suffering. Trying to push away what we don’t like is a tried and untrue way to keep what we want to get rid of from leaving on its own. The effort keeps it locked in instead of allowing it to dissipate. Whatever we resist, will, due to that resistance, continue. The medicine in this case is the practice of acceptance and nonresistance. It is the practice of allowing. A wise question to ask in the midst of resistance and aversion is: Can I make space for this?
The third form of attachment is identification with something as being essential to who or what we are. This kind of attachment means seeing what is really just another impermanent element of life as inherently me, as who I am, instead of simply as another conditioned phenomena. The Dharma medicine is to see that all elements of life are nature, rather than self. What we experience is always just an experience. It is never who we are. This is universal and true for all beings.
"Whatever we resist, will, due to that resistance, continue."
In the stages of practice, we are instructed to find an anchor to steady the mind upon. This initial training helps us understand how not to cling to thinking. As we develop in steadiness and skillfulness, we can apply attentiveness to all phenomena. With metta and compassion as companions and allies, we gently allow the inner knots to untie themselves.
We cannot force letting go. However, we can practice allowing, acceptance, and nondwelling. We can study our attachments. We can inquire into the very nature of attachment. We can encourage ease and spaciousness. And we can view what is happening as nature and not-self.
"As we develop in steadiness and skillfulness, we can apply attentiveness to all phenomena."
Observing attachments even when subtle is imperative. We study attachment whether strong or weak. When our attachments are weak, we have a good chance to gather the strength to be able to see our stronger attachments. We can take an interest in how attachments manifest, in thoughts, emotions, speech, and actions. Following through, we can bring our attention to the results of attachment in daily situations in our lives. Does attachment really bring what the heart yearns for? Each of us needs to find this out for ourselves.
We begin by accepting that we will attach, that we are wired to attach. This acceptance is part of the path, yet we don’t stop with acceptance. We can also see that the practice offers an entirely different perspective than we have learned in the past, which allows for a natural deconditioning of the heart.
"Does attachment really bring what the heart yearns for?"
This article is an excerpt from The Magnanimous Heart by Narayan Helen Liebenson.
The magnanimous heart is a heart of balance and buoyancy, of generosity and inclusivity. It allows us to approach each moment exactly as it is, in a fresh and alive way free from agendas and shoulds, receiving all that arises. It has the capacity to hold anything and everything, transforming even vulnerability and grief into workable assets.
In writing evocative of Pema Chödrön’s, Narayan Liebenson shows us exactly how it is possible to turn the sting and anguish of loss into a path of liberation, moving from the “constant squeeze” of suffering to a direct experience of enoughness—the deep joy, peace, and happiness within our own hearts that exists beyond mere circumstances. She teaches how to skillfully respond to painful human emotions, and teaches the art of meditative inquiry, questioning wisely—showing us how to live from a compassionate love that guides our lives and warms whatever it shines upon. With metta and compassion as companions and allies, we discover how our own magnanimous hearts can gently allow the inner knots to untie themselves.
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