When I was a kid, I was obsessed with magnets. I would play with them for hours. Their peculiar ability to attract and repel one another and the power they have over other objects, among other things, was so interesting to me. At some point around the age of nine, after being in a minor car wreck while riding home from the local dairy queen with my dad, I came up with an idea for electromagnetic car bumpers as a method of reducing or eliminating ice cream casualties due to human error on the road. After the traumatizing image of my buster bar laying stick up on the floorboard of my dad’s pick up truck, I spent quite some time thinking about how the positive and negative poles could interact to make driving a little safer. Sooner or later though, I recognized a hole in my theory… What would happen in a head on collision? You guessed it. The like poles would attract eachother, increasing the velocity, only to exaggerate the impact and make things worse. Before that moment, I had only considered how useful the attraction of two magnets could be; how it could bring a level of convenience to one’s life. Turns out, there are definitely some negatives competing with the positives concerning attraction and attachment.
Often, attachment is discussed in terms of material things. Personally, I grew up hearing numerous biblical stories about the dangers of being attached to money, and stuff. I can’t count how many times I heard, “You can’t take it with you when you die!” In my twenties, Buddhism taught me the nature of true humility and the value of detaching one’s worth from the physical things of this life. But as I grew up and experienced joy and disappointment in ways I had never imagined, I began to learn that attachment has many more facets to it. If I were to define attachment in one sentence, I would say it this way: Attachment is actively maintaining any relationships, beliefs, scenarios, or material items which create distraction or cause harm.
Now, when I say distraction, I don’t mean stopping to admire the shapely ass of a random attractive passerby, or putting off a work assignment for thirty minutes while you aimlessly scroll social media. I’m talking about a distraction that throws, or has the potential to throw, your life off track. Regarding harm, of course if your are in an abusive situation, I urge you to tell someone. Now. Literally, stop reading this and tell someone you are being hurt. I promise there isn’t a person on this earth worth being physically or emotionally beat up by. That person you’re making excuses for doesn’t know how to love you. Move on. That said, harm equates to more than abusive relationships. Harm can be done in so many ways, but the overarching cause is selfishness, an undeniable act of attachment. It is as if to say, “Without this person…” or, “Without this thing, I will experience discomfort of some sort. Therefore, I will keep it as mine at all cost.”
Instead of allowing selfishness to dictate our interactions, we should set that selfishness aside and learn to evaluate the intrinsic or depreciating value of each relationship between the self and and another person or thing. Is your circle of friends creating stress, or joy? Are your drinking habits causing more harm or more growth? Is your commitment to work improving quality time with loved ones, or diminishing it? All of these are examples of attachments which may logically or emotionally seem valuable, but upon evaluation are actually doing more harm than good.
Take some time to identify the attachments in your life which are doing harm to yourself or others. Is it a person? A thing? An emotion? A habit? What steps do you need to take to let go?