Practice Non-Attachment with Buddhist Psychotherapy
Standing at the top of a mountain on a windy cornice, my brain (ego) thinks of the steep slope, deep powder and tight bump turns I’ll need to ski to get to the bottom. My brain is taking inventory and using it to craft a story about what lies ahead. The longer I stand there, the more my ego whispers “danger.” If I listen to my ego, I think of all the things that have gone wrong in the past and focus on what might go wrong in the future. I become solely focused on the outcome (getting down the mountain), rather than the thrill and beauty of the present moment.
I’ve fallen before – what if I yard sale, lose my tools in the snow? What if I’m not good enough to make it down the mountain? My ego ticks through the worst-case scenarios doing its best to protect me, because that’s my ego’s job: survival at all costs. But from what? What is true in this moment? Hand to heart, I feel it racing with fear, now slowing down. I take a deep breath and approach the situation as I would any challenge. I have what I need inside me. I am prepared. My brain is functioning in the way it was designed, and my heart sounded the alert, assessed the situation, and is telling me I’m ready to proceed. One turn at a time.
I will get to the bottom of the mountain. Fear is not the issue because I have learned to live with my brain’s survival tactics. Letting go of my attachment to the past or future is the only way forward. I know this. Right now, in this moment there is no problem. There is just me and the mountain.
In Buddhism, one of the main ways we suffer is when our ego (the idea of the self) attaches to anything that feels pleasurable. On the mountain, I long for the safety and security of the warm lodge at the base. Being on a cold and windy precipice is anything but pleasurable. It would be so easy to turn back. Clinging, grasping, striving are all forms of attachment. The problem is we only want more pleasure and we are not prepared for the pain when it goes away.
Tara Brach calls this concept the hungry ghost. A hungry ghost needs external validation to be happy. It’s rooted in fear or a scarcity mentality. This pleasurable thing needs to occur in order to achieve happiness. When we try to fill ourselves up with things that exist outside ourselves, happiness escapes us because in reality we are empty.
Often times we wonder, if I am supposed to surrender and not grasp, how will I accomplish anything? After all, it does take a bit of ambition to accomplish a challenge. Here’s what you can do to practice non-attachment:
- Let go of the outcome. It’s not that you can’t have goals, but focus more on the process than the end result.
- Stay present. Striving, grasping, and clinging are actions that are steeped in the story our ego is creating. They are not real feelings. If we stay present in reality, we can experience what is actually happening.
The part of our mind that protects us seeks pleasure and avoids pain. That is the ego at work. The opposite of striving is resistance – both are forms of attachment to an outcome. Don’t believe your ego. We grasp or avoid because the ego tells us things are good or bad. Right or wrong. And neither is true. The idea is to exist in the middle way neither grasping nor resisting. The way out of striving is to stop thinking. Notice the sensations in your body and let them pass. Fear stops when we observe the energy with loving kindness. The only way to practice non-attachment is by letting go of the story our ego tells when it is in survival mode.
Please contact Rachel Gordon if you have questions about Buddhist psychology and integrative, holistic techniques to address mental health issues and promote total body wellness. If you live in the Denver/ Castle Rock area and would like to learn more about what Rachel has to offer through Humble Warrior Therapy, please call (303) 688-6698 or click here to schedule.
Tags: Buddhist Psychology, Buddhist psychotherapy, Castle Rock, Colorado, Ego, fear, hungry ghost, Letting Go, Mental Health, Mindfulness, non-attachment