Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Non-Attachment Really Looks Like

There is a lot said in the relevant literature about attachment and the search for enlightenment. Most believe that in order to achieve enlightenment, we should let go of attachment. I've come to see that this is out of order. Non-attachment is an outcome of self-realization, not the other way around.

Letting go of attachment happens after self-realization, and is not something that we control. Before, although I practiced non-attachment, I had no idea what it really looks like. Before, I thought non-attachment meant not being attached to material things or to other people. Now I see that that is only a small part of true non-attachment.

After my search ended, attachment fell away on its own. And the fundamental attachment that fell away was the attachment to how things should be. I stopped needing to control the moment, others, myself.

The most amazing example of this occurred recently. I was bit in the hand by a cat with whom I was trying to make friends at the humane society. I was not upset at the cat, nor was I upset that he bit my hand. In fact, I was fascinated as I watched it all unfold. Cat bites are notorious for becoming infected, so the staff had me scrub my hand for 20 minutes and urged me to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Since the cat had bit me, he was now no longer fit to be put up for adoption, so he was moved to a different shelter to be quarantined and then, most likely, to be put down--unless someone adopted him before his time was up. When I found out that the cat would be moved, I felt a sadness fill me and move through me. I cried. And then, it was done. I spent most of the rest of that day, as I went to see the doctor and got the prescription for antibiotics filled,  marveling at the events that had unfolded. How amazing that I would go spend time with cats, with whom I am incredibly fond, and end up being a player in the cat's possible death. How amazing that it was I who was bit and not some child. I didn't care that the cat bit me. It's what cats do sometimes. I kept waiting for the day to feel difficult or upsetting, but all I could feel was amazement and wonder and no attachment to any idea that what was happening should be different. And there still isn't, even through my hand getting infected and through the pain of it healing.

We are so attached to our beliefs that this moment--what is happening now--is not right, not complete, lacking something.  We humans are so attached to our judgment of Life as it unfolds, and I mean to our judgment of every part of Life. We believe thoughts like, "I should be happier. Life should be easier. She should listen more. I don't have enough--money, love, looks, time. I have too much. I shouldn't have done that. I should have done that. I should be a better person. It shouldn't be like this. I shouldn't feel this way. His reaction is wrong." And on and on and on.

Can we accept Life as it unfolds, ourselves as we experience it, others as they act and react? Non-attachment means letting go and knowing that all of it--every emotion, every event, every thought, EVERYTHING--is as it should be.


  1. Hi Natalie,

    Really enjoyed this post.

    In addition to non-attachment, many of the so-called virtues seem to arise on their own with this understanding. Gratitude, generosity, the famed humility all seem to be part of the "fabric" and become apparent when there is no one striving after them.

    Isn't it amazing that what we always thought was "the way" to get there ends up being THE WAY it is!


  2. sometimes I flow along with the river of life, just existing; others, i fight that current and struggle to assert myslef. it is so much easier and more rewarding, honestly, to float.

  3. I read this entry a few days ago - I know it was written a long time ago, I'm just rummaging thruogh the blog... :) - and kept thinking about it... So is it 'non attachment'to not care if a cat dies or not? Not sure I get it...
    I also kept wishing you'd have been able to adopt the cat... and wondering if you'd considered that option.