Attachment and Nonattachment

This writing is in response to a quote from John Welwood, in his book Human Nature, Buddha Nature. The quote was sent out to a listserv on meditation and the following is my response back to the person who sent out the quote.

What Nonattachment Is Not

Unfortunately, we can easily confuse nonattachment with avoidance of attachment. Avoidance of attachment, however, is not freedom from attachment. It’s another form of clinging—clinging to the denial of your human attachment needs, out of distrust that love is reliable.

– John Welwood, “Human Nature, Buddha Nature”

Looking at it for myself here, the issue of attachment is simple, though not necessarily easy to be with. Something triggers a habit of wanting. The wanting may then drive what this body and mind does. Often there is no real insight or clarity about what is even wanted or the assumptions behind the wanting or the fears behind the wanting. So the wanting runs blindly and often causes pain because it is out of synch with reality. It’s based on something that is not true.

Sometimes the arising of a wanting habit – triggered by something unnoticed – is noticeable. It is possible, somehow and some times, that instead of the energy rushing into the acting out of the wanting, the energy instead begins to enter into the wanting habit and sheds light on it. Then it can start to become clear what is behind the wanting. “Ah, I’m afraid that this person doesn’t like me any more. I think that if I can see their face and if their face is smiling at me, I will feel secure and loved. How interesting. The effect of a smiling face…”

It’s amazing to me how healing this opening up and shedding of light onto habit is. Sometimes people talk as if attachments are bad. This doesn’t seem right to me. It’s beautiful when an attachment reveals itself. There is tremendous love in a habit of attachment being revealed, speaking what it needs to and what it has always hoped would be heard by someone.

So when a habit pattern is triggered, there is either the blind running of it or there is a shift of energy that reveals the guts of the pattern itself. What determines which way it goes? I can’t say. It is not a matter of will power because will power is itself a huge habit pattern with a deep burden of unseen assumptions. The same seems to be true of practicing some tools for “catching” attachment. The will powerer and the practicer are dark and deeply entrenched, deeply believed-in habits. We think that is how we need to live, don’t we? Give me something to do! Give me something to practice!

But the possibility of energy entering into and shedding light on a difficult pattern – when a pattern is triggered – seems to happen best when there is very little doer going on, trying to reinforce its tools, with the intent to make itself better, make itself less “attached”, less “unenlightened.” When the burden of this intending and doing is let off, then where are we? Listening – wondering – not knowing – very vulnerable – very touchable. Out of this unknowing, vulnerable being may come – unexpectedly – a different kind of energy in the face of arising habits. There is no one to do this. It happens on its own – the very expression of life.

Is it possible that our spiritual and self-improvement expectations, goals, hopes, efforts are deeply rooted in unseen assumptions about ourselves? What am I? What do I think I am? Isn’t whatever I am unfolding every moment, to be seen and felt into, unveiled, if there is not the constant effort to do something about myself? Without spiritual goals and aspirations – without any past or future at all to hold onto – what am I this moment, this only moment, this profoundly simple moment?

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