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The Cost of Clinging


Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of clinging attachment and specifically how it promotes individual suffering. Since I was not raised in this tradition, the concept was very foreign to me.

My initial reaction was “what is clinging attachment?” A concept taught in Buddhism, clinging attachment is loosely defined as an intense fixation on a particular object, person or experience…a focused “must-ness”.

The person or thing or circumstance is thought to be necessary or vital to your well-being. It is the thing that one believes holds the key to personal happiness. Clingy attachment can actually cause the opposite…unhappiness.

I found myself trying to make clinging attachment sound virtuous by thinking of it as being goal-oriented, having tenacity, or being strong-willed. I, as others I’ve noticed, set a goal and pursue it until it is brought to fruition. This laser-focus has served me well many times in life, energizing me to earn several degrees. But, I have to admit that the process of my pursuits has not always been peaceful or fulfilling. Given how driven I felt, I believe it was a life of clinging attachment.

Clinging occurs when I say “I must have that thing or that relationship to be happy”.  Clinging attachment begins innocently as we first have a desire that is normal and natural.  After desire, we begin to identify with the object or person, which can give rise to clinging. “I must have…”.  At this point, we begin to suffer when we cannot have what we have been focused on…clinging to.  Phillip Moffit, in his presentation of The Paradox of Desire states, “the desire does not cause the suffering; it is our relationship to the desire that causes the suffering”. We suffer when we believe we must have an object, a person or a specific outcome to be happy.

What is the path to peace? Non-clinging attachment happens when you allow yourself to have desires, but to hold them loosely. To allow yourself to want and to live in a state of “I prefer to have this, but I am ok regardless of having it or not” creates the space required for non-clinging.

In his book, Dancing with Life, Chapter 11, p. 119, Phillip Moffit states, “As one who knows clinging and non-clinging, you have the capability right now, despite all your imperfections, to let loose of clinging in this moment, even if in the very next moment you contract all over again. It doesn’t matter how long you have been lost in clinging, once you become mindful of what you are doing, you simply start over with letting loose because you have the confidence that you can do so.”

Another perspective on letting go is offered by Byron Katie.  She has some life-changing videos on her site that can be very beneficial.  She has also authored books that do a beautiful job of explaining the process of letting go, accepting reality, and loving the life you’re currently living without clinging and grappling for more.

Living in the midst of life-constricting, clinging attachments takes more energy than you know.  Choosing to move from that life perspective to one of freedom and lightness often requires a new awareness and extra support.  We can travel this path together. I invite you to give me a call.

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