Attachments

The Teacher Said:

You think that you must look outside yourself for guidance and for peace. When your mind is troubled you turn to religion in the hope that an external power will rescue you. Or you may seek an anodyne in a drug, or a distraction. But there is no power outside yourself that can change your predicament. I have taught you that your thoughts create your life situation. Properly seen, your mind is a tool by which you shape your Universe. Or at least, your experience of the Universe; for behind all appearences the Universe is unchanging Spirit. Any discomfort or unpleasantness you feel does not originate outside yourself; it is totally within you. Because of that, you can eliminate it by changing your thought.

Your mind is a machine which has been programmed to respond without thinking in certain ways to particular stimuli. Certain nerve endings transmit signals that your brain interprets as physical pain, and your mind automatically converts that pain into suffering. It is difficult but not impossible to break that program so that suffering does not automatically arise. Even if the suffering reflex does arise, once you have learned to recognize it for what it is, you can release the suffering and deal only with the pain. Pain is simply a signal the body uses to alert the mind to a harmful condition. If the condition is one that can be ameliorated, the mind can take appropriate action to reduce or eliminate the pain. Some pain cannot be so easily eliminated; by letting go of suffering the pain ceases to be a distraction and you can return to equanimity. [Shinzen Young's approach to the relationship between meditation and pain is described here].

Some pain is emotional rather than physical. For the unconscious person, emotional pain provides no benefit other than, perhaps, to aggrandize the ego ("Look at me, I am in pain!" Of course, only ego itself would consider that a benefit). The mind develops knee-jerk reactions to emotional pain just as it does to physical pain, and the mind is all too willing to suffer from it -- nothing bolsters the ego like a good bout of self-pity. But for you emotional pain serves a higher purpose, which is to alert you to attachments that you have formed and which are disturbing your peace.

All attachments have the potential to cause disturbance. Whether the attachment is to a person, a thing, or an idea, upon formation it immediately creates a duality -- the duality of having and not having the thing to which you are attached. This duality creates tension which gives off negative vibrations. These vibrations manifest as desire; as fear of loss; as jealousy; as antagonism to others who are seen as wanting to take from us the things to which we are attached, or who actually possess those things already and from whom we feel the desire to take them. The mind naturally forms attachments, but it is not natural for the mind to perceive their effects and to purge itself of attachments or to avoid forming them. This is where you -- the authentic you, which is your inner manifestation of Spirit -- can step in and instruct your mind to release the attachment which is causing disturbance, or not to form that attachment in the first place.

The reason that the mind creates attachments is that the mind is influenced by ego. If Spirit does not exert its control, then the mind is controlled by ego. Ego originates as the mind's awareness of itself. At the stage when ego is formed, mind is not yet aware of the presence of Spirit. Mind conceives the idea that it is separate, alone, and unique, and from that thought arises ego. From that moment forward, ego is engaged in spinning around itself a cocoon of separation to preserve its perceived identity. The first duality that arises in the mind is the duality of "me" and "not-me." The ego is the "me" and its sole purpose is to create the perception that it is important, in order to ensure its own survival. The way that it does that is to seek to dominate and possess the "not-me." What it cannot dominate or possess, it seeks to destroy or deny.

Of course, all this activity takes place entirely within the mind. From the single construct of ego arises an elaborate web of fantasies and fictions, each of which is perceived as a "thing" to be seized or destroyed. Whether the desire is to own a thing or to destroy it, that desire is an attachment because ego believes that its own well-being depends upon fulfilling that desire. If the "thing" is the object of desire, then ego believes it cannot be satisfied -- cannot be happy -- without satisfying its desire to possess the "thing". If the "thing" is the object of a destructive desire, then ego believes that it cannot be happy unless the "thing" ceases to exist. This is ironic, since the "thing" was created by mind or by ego in the first place; but ego cannot see the irony, because ego itself is unaware that it created the "thing." The perception of anything separate from self is the funamental delusion of the ego, but the ego cannot be cured of this delusion because the ego's very existence depends upon duality. If the ego were to accept that All That Is is One, that the entire Universe, is a manifestation of one Spirit, then the illusion of "me" and "not-me" would collapse and ego itself would vanish.

You can only become convinced of the Oneness of all things through meditation. Awareness of Oneness comes to some in a flash and to others only by dint of much meditation and inner seeking. Having experienced that awareness, even if it does not remain constantly with you as an immanent experience, you are able to grasp the concept that Spirit exists unconditionally, while ego exists only conditionally. In other words, Spirit is real without context; ego is real only in the context of mind. To the extent your awareness is controlled by ego, it is not genuine awareness; only the awareness of Spirit is ultimate Truth. This is the realization that you need in order to perform the inner work of identifying and releasing attachments. Ego and its attachments can be seen in the light of this realization as mere distractions. Why should you give your energy to attachments that only serve to distract you from the Truth? Of course it is absurd to do so.

Once you have realized that attachments stand between you and the complete realization of Oneness with Spirit, it becomes possible to identify and begin to release them. Here are some examples of thoughts that arise from the false attachment to the duality of "me" and "not-me":

-- That person thinks that he or she is better than I.

-- That person is different from me in ways that make him inferior to me.

-- That person has something that I do not, and I want it.

-- That person does not respect me.

-- That person wants to take something away from me.

-- That person is being treated better than I.

-- I feel responsible for that person's actions and he is embarassing me.

-- I don't have enough money/friends/love/etc.

It may not be necessary for you to specifically instruct your mind to release such attachments, if you are convinced they are unworthy of your attention. By withdrawing your attention and energy from them they should dissipate of their own accord, for it is only your energy that sustains them.

I want to be clear that I am not telling you to release attachments because they are evil. "Good-evil" is just another duality created in the mind. I tell you to release them because they are a distraction, and they prevent you from focusing your attention on Spirit and the Oneness of All That Is. Having attachments does not make you a "bad person"; it simply contributes to false beliefs of separation, and makes you unhappy.

A fully enlightened being does not form attachments. However, this is not to say that releasing attachments is the way to become fully enlightened. It would be more correct to say that the two coincide. The perception of Oneness leads to enlightenment and also to the release of attachments, and the inability to form new ones. Nevertheless, the fewer attachments one has, the easier that perception becomes.

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