Attachment and Letting Go

I find myself asking this question more and more, why do we form attachments to things and people? I think it’s easier to explain attachment to people, but what about things? That dress you’ve had for many years that has holes but you still wear it? The shoes you bought 10 years ago that’s no longer comfortable but you don’t want to throw it away? The shirt you’ve had since you were a teenager that can no longer fit but you don’t want to give it away? The boxes of paperwork from years ago when you were an undergrad? 

What about attachment to thoughts? The negative thoughts cycling through that keep us stuck, or constantly comparing ourselves to others which then leads to feelings of inadequacy? Are you attached to status or controlling how others see you? There are so many examples, and we may all experience attachment in different ways. Now, having an attachment doesn’t have to be a bad thing; however, when the attachment causes suffering – that’s when we need to pay even closer attention. In his book Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das reminds us that “if we understand that the cause of suffering and dissatisfaction is attachment, then it’s obvious that the remedy is simply letting go.”

2015-05-03 10.48.17I’ve been thinking about the simple things I form attachments to and searching for answers. For example, I insist on taking my own yoga mat to classes. Why? What’s the attachment to this mat? I’ve had it for a long time; however, it doesn’t have any sentimental meaning. It’s just a mat. Recently, I started practicing yoga on campus with colleagues (so much fun!) and one day I unintentionally left my yoga mat in my office as I was hurrying from a meeting to head to yoga. When I got there I realized I didn’t bring my own mat. Guess what happened? NOTHING! I was perfectly fine using one of the mats in the room. As simple as this sounds, it was a meaningful lesson for me – I can detach from something material and still find joy. Isn’t that a great lesson? Now, I intentionally leave my mat in my office when I go off to yoga on campus, and I don’t take my own mat when I go to my weekly yoga classes! Yay me!

I’ve also been feeling very rushed these past few weeks. When I get up, my mind starts going at 100 miles per minute thinking of things to do or things I’ve done. Sometimes I even struggle to sit through meditation. This in itself is a lesson – I need to do exactly that, sit through it all! Why do I attach to this need to get going right away when I get up? What’s making it difficult to let go and slow things down? I think I’ve been gaining some insight! I am making deliberate attempts to work through it and I am enjoying the process. I felt like I needed a boost to help me to slow things down a bit, so I went to a restorative yoga class that included a sound bath with Tibetan singing bowls. It was an AMAZING experience! I own a singing bowl and I have not used it in…years. After that restorative class, I remembered how relaxing it felt to listen to the sound. I hope to use my singing bowl more!

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During the restorative class, I had a lot of time to slow my mind down, to turn inward and also listen closely to my body. If I want to continue living a mindful life, it means I must take the time, in the moment, to focus on what I need. During that class, what I needed in that moment, was to let go of doubt, fear, anxiety, and what I “need” to do. I needed to just be present and show up for myself!

Sometimes, when we think we’ve gone off-course or lost focus, it can be difficult to get back up and start again. It’s not impossible, it just requires discipline and commitment. We all deserve the commitment to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. The question is, how do we do it? How do we let go of our attachments enough so we can flourish? How do we change the internal narrative that we attach to? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Avoid comparison to others: I know this is easier said than done at times (i’m guilty of it too); however, comparing ourselves just adds to the frustration and increases the urge to hold on to the negative/unhealthy thoughts we have about ourselves. Instead of comparing to others, focus on what you have accomplished and make a quick gratitude list.
  • Mindfulness: When we practice mindfulness we are not focusing on the regret we feel about the past and we are not worried about the future. Instead, we are focused on the present moment. Mindfulness can help us to stay grounded and stable when we think we are becoming consumed with unhelpful or unhealthy thinking and behavior.
  • Consider your priorities: Figure out what is important to you and WHY it is important. When we know why we are doing something we can find more meaning in doing it. When we know the meaning, we can let go of doubting ourselves or constantly questioning “if” you should do it.
  • Confide in someone: You can talk with a friend, family member, loved one, or trusted colleague. No matter who you decide to talk to, let the person know what you need from them. You can say “I have a lot going on and I just want to say it out loud and for you to hear me.” When we can share what we struggle with, it can help to reduce the intensity of the feelings.
  • Write it out: I always recommend journaling because it’s a great way to do a “thought dump” on paper so you can discover patterns (feelings, thinking, eating, etc). Keeping a journal is also another way to relieve the intensity of feelings.
  • Get an accountability partner: Sometimes we need that extra push to snap out of unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. If you know you are trying to change behaviors (eg., reduce the number of times you text someone who you are trying to distance yourself from but find it emotionally difficult to do so) you can let your accountability partner know you’re planning to keep track of the behavior and your plan for working on it. Ask your accountability partner to check in with you periodically. Just be sure this is someone that you would appreciate sharing your vulnerable moments and someone you are open to getting feedback from.

What are you attached to? What’s difficult for you to let go? What do you need to recommit to your needs?

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
― Steve Maraboli

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