Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Am...

Buddhism teaches that the origin of all suffering is attachment. Craving and clinging are natural reactions to life; we cling to our possessions and our wealth, we crave attention and affection, we attach ourselves to our loved ones and to our lives. Yet the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. You pine for the love of someone, if your love is unrequited you naturally become sad or frustrated. Suppose, instead, you come to find that certain someone loves you too. The moment you share your love for one another, the moment that by all rights and reasons should be unmitigated joy, some part of you shifts to a fearful, defensive posture. What if they should stop loving you, move away or even die? In that instant that we attain that which we have been craving we begin to cling to it for dear life.

Arguably the most difficult things for us to learn to sever our detachments from are not our cars and houses, not our bank accounts, not even our loved ones... that which we grasp onto most tightly is our paradigms. The image we carry of ourselves, the lens through which we see the world, the guide by which we interpret our lives are often so ingrained, so intrinsically a part of who we are that we shrink in terror from the loss of them. We allow our beliefs, opinions and conceptions to shape our lives at such a fundamental level that many of us actually identify with them. Strip away our politics, our religion, our day-to-day world views and many of us don't even have a concept of what 'self' would be leftover.

The source of these deeply enmeshed attachments stem from an attachment to our thoughts. We suffer from the belief that whatever pops into our mind is part of who and what we are, thus we cling to the random wanderings of our brain under the delusion that our thoughts are as much a part of us as our own skin. I am learning to see my thoughts and emotions like clouds, there to be observed and considered but lacking any personal attachment, drifting across the sky of my mind leaving no trace of their passing. By identifying ourselves with our own attachments we tie our mental and emotional well-being to a vulnerable, false 'self'. This is why people become so defensive of their paradigms, what we feel as an attack on our core beliefs is seen as an attack on our very selves. To question someone's political stance or religion, for example, is perceived on par with coming at them with a knife, an attempt to cut away a part of themselves.

This simple, terrible truth is at the heart of the conflict between conservatives and liberals, Christians and Muslims, Capitalists and Socialists, husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and neighbors. It plays a core role in humanity's destruction of the environment, the exploitation and enslavement of one person by another and virtually every war ever waged in human history. These attachments are, quite literally, the fountain from which all suffering springs, thus it is only by finding these intrinsic attachments within ourselves and confronting them head on that we, both individually and collectively, will ever escape the vicious cycle of misery that binds humanity in a prison of our self-deluded creation.


æscj said...

I want to talk about all of these ideas with you some day. I really feel as if I couldn't think more differently. If attachment is the foundation of suffering, why should fight to keep more polar bears alive? If anything, I feel we are all too detached. But seriously, I'd love to talk about this with you.

Crystal said...

I don't think that we see things as differently as it seems. It sounds like you feel that we are too apathetic toward our treatment of the environment and it's flora and fauna, that people have divorced themselves from nature in their heads. Consequently fail to recognize that they are not in any way separate from nature; yet, whether we recognize it or not, we are a part of the Earth-system and thus everything we do has a direct bearing on every other part (the Earth, the ecosystem, the plant and animal kingdoms, humanity, etc). Thus, we are each responsible for the mass naturecide that is occurring. Personally, I couldn't possibly agree more!

The only hope humanity has of finding a sustainable existence is to let go of the delusion that we existing independent of nature, to accept responsibility for the tremendous harm we have wrought (and persist in causing) and to quite literally do everything in our power to repair the damage, making whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to bring our existence back in harmony with the natural order.

When I speak of the attachment as the foundation of suffering I am referring, at the core, to humanity's fear of change and subsequent need to grasp on to things (objects, ideas, etc.) in an effort to find a state of permanence. We find great enjoyment in our new car or in our big screen television and so when the car breaks down or the television goes out we become upset, angry or heartbroken. We are desperate to keep things that make us happy in a state of suspended animation and simultaneously guard against anything that makes us upset. We want technology to always work like we just bought it, babies to stay small, friends to never move, loved ones to never die and our paradigms to remain unchallenged and comfortable. I believe that this is due in no small part to the very divorce from nature that leads us to exploit and destroy the Earth, we consider ourselves independent of nature and this delusion leads to an expectation that we can somehow avoid the most natural of all laws - everything changes. In the end we are attempting to hold water in a sieve.

To take the 'attachment leads to suffering' point a step further, the reason these objects have so much sway over us is that essentially we hang our emotional well-being on them: when they perform as we expect them to it's uplifting to us, when that changes it gets us down. Rather than doing the work necessary to find contentment, a mental and emotional oasis, within ourselves we take the easy way and attach our mental health to something we can see and feel. Yet by placing this type of stock in a transient object we are ultimately dooming ourselves to eventual misery, because like it or not stuff breaks, children grow up, friends move away, loved ones pass on and either our paradigms are challenged and evolve or we live out our lives as ignorant fools.