What Is Non-Attachment, And How Can I Learn It?
Updated July 12, 2019
If you're not familiar with the term "Non-Attachment," the meaning may be hard to decipher. Does it mean you go through life alone, with nothing and nobody? Does it mean you don't feel love or excitement? Does it mean you don't care?
When you understand non-attachment and how to practice it, you may find that it's one of the most beneficial things you could ever learn.
What Is Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment is none of the things listed above. It isn't destitute, and it isn't emotionally empty. Then, what is it?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines non-attachment as "lack of attachment (as to worldly concerns)." Non-attachment was first used as an English word in this sense in 1902, but its origins go back to ancient Eastern thought.
Buddhism And Non-Attachment
For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have practiced non-attachment to attain spiritual enlightenment. They set themselves apart from the world of attachments to things, locations, and people, focusing on becoming more like spiritual masters like Buddha.
The same concept is contained in many great world religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Taoism. In modern secular Buddhism, the goal is not to be more like someone else. It's to be who you already are but to become the best possible version of yourself.
A Path, Not An Event
It's unlikely that you're going to become completely detached from worldly concerns. Progress may come very slowly. However, you can start on the path to non-attachment. It's a path, not an event, a practice, not a single action.
Indifference vs. Non-Attachment
Indifference means apathy, callousness, carelessness, and disinterest. If you're indifferent, you're inattentive, insensitive, dispassionate, and you may even be negligent. That isn't what non-attachment is.
In fact, you can practice Non-attachment and still feel love, passion, interest, and excitement. The main difference between the two words is that indifference means you don't care about anyone or anything. When you practice non-attachment, the world around you still matters. Yet, you're willing to let things come into your life and go out of your life without trying to hold onto them.
Is Non-Attachment Healthy Or Unhealthy?
Non-attachment: it sounds like something you want to avoid. Babies need to feel attached to their mothers and fathers, as psychologists tell us. Having a healthy attachment to a spouse can result in a much happier and more peaceful marriage.
Certain medical terms describe the loss of attachment as a negative thing. For example, clinical attachment loss refers to a measurement of the amount of periodontal support for a tooth that's been lost. When you have gum disease, you may experience this unhealthy loss of attachment.
So, if a loss of attachment is unhealthy in this sense, maybe it's always unhealthy, right? Non-attachment is different, though. It can be very healthy and has many benefits for anyone who comes to understand it well.
Benefits Of Non-Attachment
Non-attachment can completely change the way you think about yourself, others, objects, and places. The more you practice non-attachment, the easier it is to live a physically and emotionally healthy life. Here are some of the benefits of non-attachment:
- A feeling of inner peace
- Ability to make reasoned decisions
- Being less vulnerable to stressors
- Greater emotional stability
- Better relationships
- Being a better parent
- Enjoying being who you are
- Feeling more in control
- Greater life satisfaction
- Diminishing fear of loss
- Possible physical benefits like lower blood pressure, fewer headaches, fewer digestive problems, better brain function.
Are There Any Downsides To Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment can be a difficult thing to learn, especially if you grew up in an environment where accumulating things was a high priority. Letting go may be one of the hardest things you've ever attempted, but when it happens, you feel free.
The only real downside of non-attachment might be if you tried to practice it without a clear understanding of it. For example, if you felt that is attached to your own life was wrong, you might think you shouldn't value your life. You might do reckless things or even contemplate suicide because you think it will bring you closer to enlightenment. It won't. If you begin to think that way, you need emergency treatment.
Once you understand the true meaning of attachment, you realize that you don't have to push things away. You see that you can let go when something is no longer necessary without rushing towards the loss.
In writing about fear, one journalist suggested that indifference to fear was going too far for a non-Buddhist. First, we know that non-attachment is not indifference. Also, you don't have to be a Buddhist to practice non-attachment. So, the only real difficulty is when you misunderstand the concept.
How To Practice Non-Attachment
So, how can you practice non-attachment in a world full of things, places, and people that you want in your life?
Let Go Of What's Past
Start by letting go of what no longer exists in the present. Let go of what no longer serves you. A Buddhist story illustrates this idea:
The Buddha and his monks were traveling. He asked if someone built a raft to cross the river, should they hold onto it after they reached the other side?
Yet, the boat wouldn't be needed anymore. Carrying it would have been a great burden. If they left the boat, they could deal with other rivers when they came to them. By being detached from their desire to keep the boat, they would be able to make better progress.
Non-attachment means moving through life without letting things, people, or places have such a hold on you that you make wrong choices.
Don't Let Things Own You
You can practice non-attachment without giving up any physical objects, even without giving up buying new objects. The problem isn't in owning things. When you practice non-attachment, though, those things don't own or have a hold on you. You may find beauty in a crystal vase. You may buy it. But, if you're practicing non-attachment, you don't worry or become distressed if someone breaks it.
Recognize The Signs Of Impermanence Around You
Nothing we know directly is truly permanent - not glass vases, not people, not the earth or the universe itself. This is the reality you need to understand to practice non-attachment in your daily life. To set the idea firmly in your mind, look around you.
Notice how things come and go in life. When you see something that has been destroyed or changed, think about how it came into the world at some point and then no longer existed as it was before. This practice gives you greater insight into the impermanence of everything.
Find Your Place In The Universe
You are a unique individual. Everybody else is different, too. Some things interest you, some things your passionate about, some things that you love. Find these things and do them.
As you stick with the objects, activities, and people that delight you, you will find where you fit into the grand scheme of things. Your place in the universe may keep changing, but in each moment, you can move toward those things that are expressions of who you are.
Live Without Obstructions
The things and people you cling to can block you from living your truth. To live without these obstructions, you might need to let go of them. If you're very attached to them, the process of letting go can be painful. Yet, when you've let them pass in their way, you can progress toward being the best you.
Still, you don't need to push things or people away. You simply need to go your way and allow that thing to exist as it is or that person to decide what to do from there. You might meet someone who fascinates you. You're immediately drawn to them, but they don't feel the same about you. You don't have to tell them to go away. You simply need to live what is true to you and give them the freedom to do the same.
Practice Yoga Or Mindfulness Meditation
Many people who have progressed toward being less attached to worldly things have done so through yoga and meditation. Yoga helps you control your breath, your body, and your mind in a nonjudgmental way. You become more accepting of yourself and more relaxed with others.
Meditation helps you train your mind to notice thoughts and then let them go. You stop ruminating and dwelling on negative things. You notice positive thoughts and trust that they'll come back as needed.
Mindfulness meditation is especially helpful. When you practice mindfulness meditation, your awareness of your sensory experiences increases. You become more in tune with what's happening right here, right now. This focus on the present moment keeps you grounded in the real world and reminds you how things come and go all the time.
Practice Non-Attachment In Pursuing Goals
You might wonder, "If I practice non-attachment, how can I work toward goals?" Goals are important. They help us work towards accomplishment, fulfillment, and personal contribution to the world. How does the concept of non-attachment mesh with goal-making?
A better way of describing a goal is an intention. You intend to do something. This conveys the idea that it is something that you're moving toward. To practice non-attachment toward that intention, you need to accept that if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.
It doesn't mean you failed. You did move toward it. You don't control everything. Other people and even the physical world can have their effect on whether the thing you intend comes to pass. Being detached from the results is the key. Set your intentions on only what you have control over and on processes rather than outcomes.
Practice Non-Attachment In Romantic Love
Non-Attachment doesn't mean you can't have romantic love. Far from it! In fact, practicing non-attachment can make your relationships better. Love your partner, certainly. Feel the joy and connectedness you have with them.
Yet, love them in a way that always leaves room for them to feel free to choose their own thoughts and actions. Then, choose the thoughts and behaviors that are right for you. This attitude of each person being free to follow their own path can help you avoid developing a codependent relationship in which you try to control each other.
Focus On What You Enjoy
When something distressing happens, you're usually distressed because things aren't meeting your expectations. Maybe you thought it was going to be a clear day, so you planned your wedding for that day. You feel that the most important day of your life is ruined, and you probably become extremely upset, anxious, or depressed. You may argue about it with your future spouse. You might even call off the marriage.
Yet, it wouldn't have to be that way at all. You know the weather isn't completely predictable, even with modern meteorology. A more realistic and beneficial attitude would be to accept things the way they are.
Have your first dance in the rain. Turn off the lights in the reception hall and light some candles for ambiance. Find something in the situation that you can enjoy. Clinging to the desire for your wedding to be on a clear, sunny day would only cause you to suffer. When you let that go, you can enjoy what is.
Practice Non-Attachment In Parental Love
Parents have to walk a fine line with their children. Their children need help to meet their needs. That's why parents can be cited for neglect when they don't take care of them properly. Yet, at the same time, children need to gain their independence, because they won't be children forever.
When you practice Non-Attachment in parenting, you tend to your child's needs without demanding something of them in return. You allow them to explore their world as much as they safely can, given the level of maturity they have at the moment. You teach them without demanding that they agree with you on everything. Your child feels accepted and free to follow their own life path.
Accept Responsibility For Your Own Happiness
Non-attachment naturally leads to accepting responsibility for your own happiness. As you let go of trying to control others, you finally realize that no one can reliably make you happy but you.
The fact that others can't always make you happy doesn't mean others don't care for you. It only means that you're the one who's in the best position to know what it takes for you to be truly happy and has the power to do that every time you realize you aren't happy.
Are You Ready To Let Go?
The idea of letting go can seem scary. You may feel like you're letting go of your control. The truth is that you're enhancing your personal power and gaining control over your life. The process can go more smoothly, though, if you have a guide to help you along the way.
Some people prefer to work with a spiritual leader or a yoga guru. Others prefer to talk to someone who can help them with the mental problems that too much attachment have caused them. You can speak with a licensed counselor at ReGain.us for online therapy whenever you're ready. It's affordable, convenient, and you can have sessions whenever and wherever works for you. Best of all, you can have helped you move toward greater personal freedom, fulfillment, and happiness.