We get stuff and then we don’t want to let it go. By the time we’re in our senior years, we’ve accumulated a fair amount of things.
There are boxes of unread books, that old salt and pepper shaker collection that you started 40+ years ago, dried flowers and other memorabilia from proms a cabillion years gone by and pictures. I’m not talking about digital pictures, but real pictures that were developed and printed at the local drug store. When my sister died 6 years ago, her two sons, while going through her belongings, were aghast at the volume of printed pictures she had saved over the years. “Why would she have all these pictures?” they wondered. They were just floored that anyone would keep albums and albums of pictures when they could easily be stored on a computer or cell phone.
My girlfriend in Southern California sent me an e-mail yesterday saying she was in the throes of spring cleaning. While she joyously exclaims how much she loves doing it, there is always an issue of letting go of things to which she has become attached, items that bring back memories of events and loved ones.
We can quickly get attached to things and their representation of good and bad past times. There are even reality programs dedicated to people who just can’t let go of all this stuff. It can kill you! We also develop and maintain strong attachments to people and emotions and habits and feelings and judgments and theories and falsehoods and history…I could go on.
These kinds of less tangible attachments take on a different significance. Like possession of real things, they can be helpful or harmful but many times on a deeper psychological level. I must admit, there’ve been times when I was completely unaware of any emotional attachment I harbored until it popped up in some form of sadness or depression or even aberrant behavior. Attachments can zap spirituality.
Attachments can spoil a healthy sense of spirituality, too. Where we can get into trouble is when we experience a feeling but then don’t let it go. It’s likely a negative feeling. We roll it around in our souls for a day or a year and by then we don’t want to let it go. It can be, for example, a perceived personal transgression, say daughter Janette doesn’t respond to that dynamite gift you sent her last week. If we cling to this as a hurtful event and make a ton of negative assumptions based on this one incident, we’re screwed; we’ve become attached emotionally to an unfounded theory. This kind of diligent clinging to less-than-uplifting vibes can cause a negative manifesto in our souls.
Attachment to anything negative, like guessing what someone else is feeling or thinking, can totally block the way to peace and enlightenment. Where is there room for good to come in when we’re all shut down with our need to create a falsehood about something where we don’t have all the correct information?
We can become consumed by these attachments and, when we can’t let go, we drift into being defined by them. We crave and are attached to attention so we set our lives up to get it. For instance, we can become narcissistic actors or focused hypochondriacs who stay stuck in their attachments when we don’t see the transient nature of the world. Things change and if we don’t see that one day we may be on top and the next day we may not, we become attached to an unrealistic outcome. Then we can spin into a spirit-stealing downward plunge.
Even Buddha, in the second of his Four Noble Truths, says, “The origin of suffering is attachment… The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging.” Unhealthy attachments can happen easily; we have a little, we want a lot; supersize my life!
So, what to do? As you know, I’m not a psychologist and don’t play one on TV, so I don’t have the answers. I can only share what has worked for me personally. And, you know, of course, I’m going to say meditating and prayer are the first tools I use. But there are a couple other things that have helped me in the past when I see my attachments interfering with the here and now.
What to do
First I look at what it is that might be controlling my life. Does it bring me a sense of well being and delight or anger and frustration? Second, I look at what I might be getting out of maintaining the attachment. Even negative reasons have their purpose and can be viewed with understanding and compassion. After I look at what it might be, I try to find a way to detach from whatever it is by changing where my physical and emotional focus is. From there I put it out into the Universe and move on with my life. I repeat this until I'm successful at shifting away from the attachment. Whatever works best for you is the right solution. Do remember to be gentle with yourself if you decide you need to make a change.
What might you be attached to and is it time for a little emotional spring cleaning?