Attachment Detachment & Non-attachment

Learn what ‘Attachment’, ‘Detachment’ & ‘Non-attachment’ really mean & how you can apply these principles to your life.

If you’ve ever read any Buddhist texts, or philosophical literature then you’ve probably come across the idea of ‘attachment’, ‘detachment’ and ‘non-attachment’. They are powerful concepts, but often misunderstood and many people struggle to understand how they can apply the principles in their everyday life. I know I have at times and so I wanted to write this piece to explore the concepts in a little more depth to share with you…

What does Attachment really mean?

People often ask me. “How can you tell if you’re ‘attached’?”… It’s a really good question… When we are ‘attached’ to something, be that a person, a relationship, a goal, a house, a job or an object of some description, we feel that without that ‘person’ or that ‘thing’ in our lives that we somehow won’t be whole. That somehow, we won’t be complete, and we bestow a lot of power on that thing outside of ourselves and might even see it as our very source of happiness.

“Attachment is the emotional dependence we put on things, or people, with some degree of our survival interwoven into the precious thing we hold so dear.”

Many of us spend a lifetime searching for that elusive thing outside of ourselves. Looking for something or someone to fill that void and supply us with whatever we feel we seek. The truth is, of course, that we can never find what we are looking for outside of ourselves. If we are constantly looking for something or someone to supply us with that special thing – whatever it may be – safety, happiness, security, love… We will, forever, be looking and losing.

Why? Because trying to fill that hole by something outside of ourselves will never give us the long lasting, genuine, happiness that we crave because we can never guarantee that it will last. With the best will in the world, you just can’t rely on the fact that your great job, your great house, or your great partner will always be there. Things get taken away from us unexpectedly all of the time. I know I have been there. One thing we can be sure about is that change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent.

As the Dalai Lama says ~ “Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” 

If we allow our sense of self to be emotionally swayed by everything and everyone that crosses our path, then our life will forever be a rocky road of ups and downs. And our sense of wellbeing will always be based upon whatever or whoever we are emotionally attached to at that particular time rather than with our true inner balance and wisdom. But if we can remain un-attached to the things we experience and draw from the deep well of truth from within then our happiness has a chance to remain steady and constant.

A common misconception about happiness is that if you obtain all the things you desire, you will be happy. However, the opposite is often true. In order to acquire something, you often have to relinquish your attachment to having it in the first place.

When you understand that the only genuine source of security is living as your true self, you can detach more easily and trust the flow of life. Even when it seems to be steering you on a course which is very different to the journey you had originally imagined!


What does Non-attachment really mean?

Non-attachment is essentially a practice of presence and mindfulness. It is not allowing your sense of well-being to rely upon anything other than your own presence of awareness and inner wisdom. It means to be in the world, but not of the world.

It says: don’t wrap yourself, your identity or your survival around anything or anyone. If we become too attached to one specific outcome in any way of life we are heading for trouble.  This can be hard though. I know, especially if we are a little stubborn and a little inflexible (and being a Taurean I know I am both of these things in bucket loads!)

In my thirties I thought I had a very clear idea of exactly where my life was headed. I had carefully and meticulously planned my future and knew exactly where I wanted to be, who I wanted to be with and what I wanted to do. Then within a matter of months the love of my life left me, my new business venture faltered and I found myself barely able to scrape together the rent to pay for my apartment. Let alone buy the beautiful house I had set my heart on.

It’s fair to say the universe was not aligning itself around what ‘I wanted’ and I was extremely cross! I had vision boarded this and everything! I sobbed and raged and had my dark night of the soul. And then I had another thought. A pretty radical thought at the time. Maybe just maybe, what I really wanted in life looked different to what I had imagined?

What if I didn’t know better? What if the universe was providing me with what I actually needed? What if I had to get out of my own way and trust I was going in exactly the right direction which would allow me to fulfil my higher life goals?

I had spent quite a long time grieving my lost future, so it took a while to get my head round this idea but eventually. I thought, “Wow, maybe this is the opportunity to really pursue what I really want to do with the rest of my life! What if the universe was just gently pushing me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to fly? What if I had to be brought to my knees so I could rise up stronger and wiser again?

And so, I have discovered, sometimes the dreams we chase and the life we design for ourselves really do come true.  And sometimes it takes letting go and having faith that there is a bigger divine plan at work that we may not quite understand.


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­What’s the difference between Non-attachment and Detachment?

It’s important to remember though that the gentle and loving teachings of ‘non-attachment’ should not be mistaken for ‘detachment’ or a lack of love or compassion which is something entirely different.

When we are unhealthily ‘detached’ it can have negative connotations and often means we distance ourselves from the world in a less positive way and might become aloof, uncaring, indifferent or even disconnected from our feelings. In this sense we aren’t really engaging in the full depth of life at all and this goes against the teachings.

The practice of ‘non-attachment’ in contrast doesn’t affect how you enjoy life. It simply means that your happiness is no longer directly defined by anything outside of yourself and you can remain free to appreciate life to it’s full. It is a self-realisation of the truth that your consciousness, cannot be affected by anything and it’s only the egoic mind that makes us believe otherwise.

As spiritual author Ron W. Rathbun wrote, “True detachment isn’t a separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”


How can you practice Non-attachment within relationships?

Perhaps the most common challenge around the issue is how to balance the art of non-attachment within relationships. I often get asked by clients, “How can you practise non-attachment in personal relationships or romantic partnerships and still love that person?”

‘Very well is my response. If we can balance our emotions within that relationship. A ‘non-attached’ union is the healthiest and strongest type of relationship we can possibly strive to achieve because both partners recognise their value independently but don’t expect to be ‘saved’ or ‘completed’ in any way by the other.

When two like-minded souls come together from this place to form a relationship, it removes expectations and allows the two individuals to support each other without forming any unhealthy expectations and the couple are free to live in the now and enjoy the moment.

In this sense love and intimacy isn’t diminished in the least, in fact, it becomes even more intensely focussed because it is pure and present and given freely.

Osho says” Remember, love is not attachment, love knows no attachment, and that which knows attachment is not love. That is possessiveness, domination, clinging, fear, greed — it may be a thousand and one things, but it is not love.”

Attachment Detachment & Non-Attachment





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