Non-Attachment: Want without wanting
If you are not attached to anything being this way or that, then it is difficult to suffer. This idea is so simple that it can be hard to understand. Practicing non-attachment is a practice in letting go of judgment.
Giving ourselves permission to want things/circumstances seems to fly in the face of non-attachment; attachment being the source of suffering in many spiritual/philosophical perspectives.
So how do we ‘want’ something without being attached to it (attached via the ‘wanting’)? By recognizing that the ‘wanting’ is happening when it is happening, rather than trying to deny the wanting-ness, or by trying to rationalize it as a ‘need,’ etc. By simply noticing the attachment, without judging it as ‘bad,’ the attachment part of wanting begins to fall away.
Let go of judgment
From what I can tell/understand at this point, judgment is directly tied to attachment; if we succeed in attaining what we are ‘attached’ to (ie what we are ‘wanting’ from an ego place), then we feel some sort of fulfillment—but because the fulfillment is based externally, it is never quite enough (because the ego is never satisfied–it always wants more) . . . the bar keeps getting set higher and higher; always a new ‘thing’ to accomplish.
So, once the judgment of ‘not achieving, accomplishing, or getting/attaining’ passes, we are not so tied up in attachment . . . a want is free to just be a want . . . not an attachment with a judgment in tow, and not a want masquerading as a need. You see, we are not ‘attached’ to breathing . . . we need breath, from a deep inner place called survival. But we do not need a high-end car, or a huge house, or the latest style of clothes in order to feel nice. As a matter of fact, if you feel nice (content/balanced) from the inside first, then you are more likely to put yourself in a position to accomplish what would otherwise be attachment-based wants (ie ego-based wants). See my article on Optimism.
Internal vs external experience of happiness
The problem can be that we get trained by society, media, family, etc. to pursue ‘things’ as markers of success. This teaches an externally based sense of success—by definition, if something is external, then for our ego to feel connected to it, we (ie our ego) have to be ‘attached’ to it. If we already have it (the sense of balance, contentment) inside of our own ‘self’ then there is no need to be tethered to it (ie no need to be attached to it) because it is already inside! This is not encouraging a ‘minimalist’ lifestyle at all; nor is it advocating a lavish lifestyle . . . it is simply encouraging non-attachment to your wants and possessions. I personally know quite a few very, very well-off people that are very high in terms of awareness/mindfulness . . . and I am certain that each of them would say something similar to what we are discussing here . . . having a drive/passion/enthusiasm for what you are looking for, but without defining your very sense of ‘self’ based on whatever ‘it’ is that you are working for. In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda himself teaches that some of the highest yogis he ever met were very successful business people because they approached their success from a non-attached, yet structured and enthusiastic perspective.
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Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.