In the essay “On Suffering and Healing,” I wrote these words:
Is there a way to thrive, meeting life openly, yet without suffering when difficult events happen? Is this even a desirable goal, or is the process of suffering and healing an integral part of the human experience? Is “suffering-and-healing” the essence of human life, or is it a major problem to be solved and prevented? Answering this question seems to be my next task in unloosing the threads that keep the secrets of life hidden from my view.
I think I can answer that question now.
In life, we form attachments. These attachments can be to people, ideas, places, habits, sensations, feelings, and just about anything else you can imagine. This is a safety mechanism, enabling us to survive and function when we’re little. It also serves to chain us to exterior circumstances as we accumulate attachments.
This is because attachments are real things (not just concepts) on a higher level of our being. Most of us can’t see them, but we do feel them, here in the physical.
Attachments always limit our experience.
This is not to say that all attachments are bad, or even undesirable. For example, I have kids and I have no intention of breaking my many attachments to either of them. Nor to Metallica’s music or the Internet.
So, attachments can enrich our experience.
If one of my kids were to die, though, those attachments would become a ball and chain—a wrong attachment, which is always accompanied by unexpressed negative emotion. I would have to grieve (break my attachment and release the emotion associated with it) in order to live freely again.
I did this after my mom died, and I’ve done it more than once when relationships have ended. I’ve even made new attachments to the same people or ideas after I junked the old wrong attachments!
Attachments are always accompanied by emotion when formed. Breaking attachments always releases negative emotion. The negative emotion is as strong as the positive emotion that accompanied the attachment previously: it is the previous positive emotion’s “flip” side.
After we release negative emotion, “new” positive emotion fills its place. The positive emotion was always there, but hidden from our view for awhile by the negative emotion.
Positive emotion surrounds our core; negative emotion surrounds our positive emotion. We see this from the “outside,” looking “in.” If there is much negative emotion in us, that’s what we see when we turn our awareness inward. If there’s little negative emotion, then we naturally and effortlessly see the (deeper) positive emotion.
To release negative emotion is to allow access to our natural positive emotion. To release negative emotion is to become free, because unexpressed negative emotion affects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior—always for the worse. It possesses and controls us, pretending to be us. It makes us act like someone we are not.
We are all good underneath, at our core.
If we understand attachment, then when we experience loss (an attachment that no longer has a valid object) we can move more quickly to heal, thus minimizing our suffering.
So, to answer my previous question, the process of attachment, loss, suffering, breaking attachments, and healing is an integral part of being human. But we can reduce our suffering and quicken our healing if we understand attachment. We can escape the process, though, if we really want to break all of our attachments. We have that choice. Personally, I don’t want to break them all. Many of them enrich me.
But now my wrong attachments have targets on them.
The good, beautiful, and true attachments enrich my life. But any attachments can be broken because they are exterior to myself. It’s my choice. Understanding that I have that choice is one aspect of true power.
Only what I carry within myself, at my core, cannot be broken. It can only be hidden, for awhile, until I uncover it by releasing wrong attachments.
What are attachments, by the way? Attachments are “only” ideas with (positive or negative) emotion holding them in place. And oh, how powerful they can be. Even the wrong ones.
We can have both right and wrong attachments to the same thing, at the same time. Only the wrong ones hurt.
(written in 2008)