My guru once reminded me that the chains of my bondage are voluntarily worn. I can remove those chains quite easily if I ever decide to shed them. There is no need to delve into the subconscious mind to free myself of attachments. I instinctively understood that his advice was true. An attitude of mindful detachment is a good practice.
I must be clear that this detachment is not, at all, related to an emotional condition present in some children. A detachment disorder is something for a pediatrician to address along with parental care. Emotional detachment disorders are not a topic I am qualified to comment upon.
The attachments my guru refered to are our addictions, habits, possessiveness, greed, and deceptive points of view. He said that most people unconsciously bind (attach) themselves to modes of behavior and thinking that distract them from enjoying a full, happy life. After awhile, people become adjusted to their beliefs, habitual thoughts, and attachments then think they are bound to them with mental chains.
He pointed out that the wise practice of detachment is not based upon religious or philosophical beliefs. The conclusion that attachment to view creates an unhappy relationship with others and oneself has been indepently observed since antiquity. The same holds true for detachment. Various individuals, including sages, monks, nuns, free-thinkers, and scientists have found that the practice of detachment leads to feelings of lightness, freedom, and discernment.
Attachment is easily discovered when we feel like our beliefs and actions are beyond our control. We have tricked ourselves into thinking that we are controlled by outside forces, perhaps by some sort of conspiracy, or malevolent supernatural beings. These beliefs usually lead to the illusion of helplessness, despair, and acting out against others. We see extreme attachment in the form of substance abuse, over-dependence on material wealth, unhealthy relationships, manipulative behavior, and fanaticism.
Destructive attachment is often thought of as over investing oneself in one aspect of life at the expense of our over-all mental and physical health. Some people have generated the beliefs that our personal value depends upon our social rank or how much we can pack into our bank accounts. Another aspect of attachment is the view that our beliefs automatically grant us some sort of moral superiority. Self-righteousness is an especially harmful belief or attachment to view.
What can a person do if she or he wants to discover their attachments? How can a person safely practice detachment? We don’t need to learn an arcane technique or memorize special, spiritual writings. We can do so, if we wish, but it is not at all necessary.
All one needs to do is to set aside some time for honest, self-reflection. With a feeling of gratitude, think of past situations that have caused emotional friction with other people and oneself. What types of thoughts were present in the mind? Was there a need to defend a particular belief or opinion? What is that belief or opinion? Do not judge whether it is good or bad, simply write it down on a sheet of paper.
More thoughts about beliefs and opinions may automatically come to mind. These might be about physical cravings or beliefs about what we must have, in order to achieve fulfillment. We are strongly attached to our political and religious opinions about how other people should behave. Write those down, but don’t analyze them yet. Make note of what possessions are owned. Do these possessions actually “own” us? Again, jot down examples of these.
When the list seems complete, look it over without self-condemnation or self-congratulation. The list is just an enumeration of one’s attachments. The list shows us areas where we might choose to practice detachment.
Once we know what our attachments really are, there is no need to force detachment through overt techniques. There is no need to become anxious or worried about the attachments. Anxiety and worry are counter-productive ways of dealing with our attachments.
We can borrow from the practice of mindfulness. We can pay attention as we go about our daily work and play. Situations that normally arise sometimes trigger uneasy feelings. Pay attention to those times and, if possible, write a short notation about each instance of an emotion and the scenario that triggered it. Be sure to pay attention to the happy emotions, too.
All one needs to do is pay attention to the mind and the emotions that arise. A person can do this through simple, relaxed contemplation during some quiet time each day. A more focused approach is mindfulness meditation, but this is not mandatory. We only need to be aware of our thoughts and deeds.
We can experiment with full presence of mind. Ultimately, detachment is non-attachment to stuff and viewpoints. Detachment is compassionate observation of life.