On the heels of my mom’s visit to Mexico City last week, I recognized that for the first time when she left I didn’t experience the usual emotions I’ve had so often in the past; previously, I felt like I was like a baby with its umbilical cord being cut every time I had to say goodbye. Although I have always had a very close relationship with my mother and I was sad to see her go, I am realizing that my former attachment to her may have been a crutch and a replacement for an inner strength that I was missing. On one hand I rationalize that if we are here on this earth, living these blessed lives in order to give and receive love, that attachment must be part of the equation. I mean, how can we be expected to love unattached? As human beings with emotions and egos, we naturally have an inclination to attach ourselves to other people, places and objects. Yet as I have I started to contemplate this concept, I see how it can be both a critical human emotion and a defense mechanism to guard against fear and vulnerability.
I read a quote recently on the Soka Gakkai International web page (http://www.sgi.org) that reassured me that my feelings were not out of the ordinary or a result of simply being “unenlightened”. It said: “It is impossible to live in the world without attachments, or indeed to eradicate them. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself–all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment or suffering, but they are the substance of our humanity and the elements of engaged and fulfilled lives.” My thoughts exactly.
Yet viewed from another perspective, attachment could be confused for love itself, and it can be a very dangerous sentiment. For example, we may attach to people to an extent that we remain in toxic relationships despite our better judgment. Maybe they are abusive, or to a lesser degree just generally unsupportive of our goals. I know I have been in that situation and just how hard it can be to let go. The attachment to the other person is really masking a hidden fear of being alone, or maybe just a fear of change in general. In my case I felt like if I separated myself or changed the dynamic of the relationship that I had with the other person, I might never meet anyone else who could love me to that same degree. Fortunately, I made the self-loving choice in the long run to establish the distance that was required to gain a healthier perspective, but it was truly one of the more difficult decisions I have encountered.
We also attach to places. As someone who loves to travel and live in other countries, I cannot easily to relate to a person who refuses to step out of the ordinary and see all that the world has to offer. I can respect the decision, however I suspect that any desire to live in a bubble, no matter how much one likes where he or she is in a physical sense, is once again a fear of exploring what is unknown. Ironically, despite my love for travel, even once I arrive somewhere I find my “comfort zones” in places that become familiar and ultimately remind me of home. As ridiculous as it sounds, I will never forget the feeling of elation I experienced when I found my frozen yogurt and almond milk in Mexico City that I so loved in the U.S. After 9 months living without it in Argentina (not that there were not substitutions – i.e. incredible Italian-inspired gelato), I was overjoyed to see some familiar brands and products when I arrived in DF.
Attachment to “things” is also emotionally hazardous, yet not uncommon territory for me. I am guilty as charged; I cannot deny that I enjoy shopping as much as the next girl. The reality is that we live in a world full of messages that we need to acquire more, spend more, and that it will lead to more happiness. Maybe those things will lead to a higher status in many societies and circles, or make you feel more satisfied in the moment, but in the long term, they are ultimately unfulfilling and un-reciprocating. I cannot claim to be above it all and certainly we all deserve to treat ourselves to nice things; I also think we can appreciate material goods with a healthy outlook, yet it is slippery slope…it is not long before we have made the purchase of the latest style of shoes or bag before we forget all about it and start focusing on the next trendy acquisition.
So where is the line between healthy and unhealthy attachment? Personally I think we need to evaluate and ascribe to what truly has meaning for us and aligns with our core values. If it does not give us something in return, we are wasting our time and energy. Any attachment is a risk and brings the possibility of suffering if it suddenly vanishes, but so is anything worthwhile in our lives. Certain times call for detachment – but in the end we are also adaptable and resilient beings capable of digging out from underneath the pain experienced as a result of a lost connection (probably related to some divine design/ evolutionary quality to balance our egos). I don’t believe we should become emotionally devoid beings who maintain a distance and invulnerability, but perhaps we should be more conscious about where we focus our attachment energy.
In weighing both sides of this debate, I concluded that I want to feel attached to people, places and things because it reminds me that I am living. There is a stark difference, however, between a loving connection and a sense of fear or insecurity at the thought of a person or thing no longer existing in a tangible sense in my present or future life. In the case of my relationship with my mom, I know that my attachment to her did not wane, but rather that I have released a dependence I once had when I felt insecure about myself and my life’s path. I don’t pretend to be some supreme being who is “above” it all because I do not believe there is any superior or inferior feeling. But it’s all about a perspective. Attachment to my world makes it more authentic to me, which is only becoming more difficult in a virtual, often emotionally devoid reality. If I can feel, taste, touch, smell, and witness love and beauty, I will try to hold onto it for as long as I can. And I might just splurge on that purse I have been admiring!