"Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering."
       —The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 1988
I used to think of attachment and non-attachment in terms of material possessions, desired outcome of intentions, relationships to people, judgements, habits.

Recently though, under siege by thoughts of what is becoming of the waters and life in the Gulf of Mexico and all that will affect, I have been considering non-attachment in an entirely new light. As many others do, I have a strong emotional attachment to the water and life in the Gulf. To all water and life, really.

I recognized that my thoughts about the Gulf catastrophe were negatively impacting my daily life. What to do? What to do?

My old Buddhist lessons of impermanence and non-attachment arose and I found a place for my mind to settle though not exactly a solution to my problem. As I considered my mental state in Buddhist terms, I felt at home, as if I were sitting down in a familiar chair.

I tried to wrap my mind around the impermanence of an entire ecosystem on a little planet, me being part of that little planet. How can I practice non-attachment to something I consider my personal system to be a part of? I eliminated impermanence and simply worked with the idea of non-attachment.
"The teaching of non-attachment may be easy to understand, but it is not easy to practice. Nevertheless, it is very essential to cultivate non-attachment if we are to live a serene and happy life in a world of constant change."
       —Thich Thien An
Finally, it dawned on me. I don't practice non-attachment to the Gulf of Mexico, I practice non-attachment to my emotional connection to the water and the life there and to the outcome of the oil catastrophe. As soon as I connected to the awareness of the emotional content of my thoughts, I began to experience relief.

I have no control over what is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. I only have control over my own mind. Well, let's say that I can only practice working with my own mind.
"The process of practice is to see through, not to eliminate, anything to which we are attached. We could have great financial wealth and be unattached to it, or we might have nothing and be very attached to having nothing. Usually, if we have seen through the nature of attachment, we will have a tendency to have few possessions, but not necessarily. Most practice gets caught in this area of fiddling with our environments or our minds. "My mind should be quiet". Our mind doesn't matter; what matters is non attachment to the activities of the mind. And our emotions are harmless unless they dominate us (that is, if we are attached to them)---then they create dis-harmony for everyone.

The first problem in practice is to see that we are attached. As we do consistent, patient zazen we begin to know that we are nothing but attachments; they rule our lives. But we never lose an attachment by saying it has to go. Only as we gain true awareness of its true nature does it quietly and imperceptibly wither away; like a sandcastle with waves rolling over, it just smoothes out and finally Where is it? What was it?

       — Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen
Since late April, I have kept returning to the notion that the playing out of the catastrophic drama in the Gulf is offering some potential for a spiritual awakening. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this notion but I won't attach myself to any particular outcome.

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Mary Sheehan Winn said...

thank you for that post. I've diagnosed myself as 'attached'. Very much so.
The news every night is awful and I've even noticed my husband, who tends to be less attached than I, becoming more disturbed about the Oil Leak than he's normally be. Shutting off the news in anger.
We are a very small part of the bigger picture. I'll just have to keep working on it.

RHCarpenter said...

I'm not sure how we can become unattached - it seems to be our nature. But, of course, Buddha would disagree with that :)
Of course, our main attachment is to our own personal positive outcome - so to break free from that would be a relief.

Suzanne McDermott said...

Great to hear from you, Mary! I've taken to watching the news less, and less. It's all fear based and why do I want to go there? I ask myself - how does the stuff on the news affect my daily life? Really not at all. Remember, the news stories (especially in this country) are designed to sell something to us, not necessarily to inform us. Watching (and listening) to the news is just another habit and one worth breaking!

Suzanne McDermott said...

Hey Rhonda,

It is our nature to become attached and so we practice non-attachment. Just like drawing and watercolor, non-attachment is a practice!

Olivia said...

I understand this attachment so much, Suzanne. The sea had the same color on sunday at "l'île de Houat " in Gulf of Morbihan. Best regards.

Suzanne McDermott said...

If we're human, we understand attachment!

I'm going to have to learn more about your whereabouts - the Gulf of Morbihan. I've never heard of it!

Olivia said...

If you want, Suzanne, you can discover photos of the Gulf of Morbihan on Julien Danielo's blog which lives in the same city as me (in Vannes). Best regards.

Dawn said...

nice post Suzanne, glad I stopped by.
It is hard to be un-attached when you have deep passion for life... a constant struggle.

Suzanne McDermott said...

Oh, good, Olivia. I looked you up on the map. Now I'll go look at those photos. Thanks!

Suzanne McDermott said...

Hi Dawn! Glad you stopped by, too. The trick to exiting the struggle is being in the moment. A practice that's easier said than done. Also remembering that all things must pass, like it or not.