On Non-attachment, Impermanence and Activism

posted in: Mindfulness | 0

I love my meditation groups. They always challenge me to think deeply, becoming really clear on the things I teach.

Last week, the idea of non-attachment came up. So, I had to look at what non-attachment REALLY means to me, not just what I’m told it means, what the “experts” say it means. My answers don’t always come up during the meditation class. Oftentimes, it takes me sitting with it a while before I finally grasp it.

Part of what non-attachment means to me is the recognition that the world is ever-changing, the idea of impermanence in all things. When we practice non-attachment, we do our part in creating the world we want ourselves and our loved ones to live in, a world of compassion and peace. And then, we let go.

We let go of the need to control events and people. We let go of being controlled by or of controlling our emotions. We let go of expectations. Because, you see, the very nature of impermanence means that even as we envision how something will come to fruition, that outcome is changing.

This next part is really important, because it’s come up a few times during meditation groups and many people struggle with it. What about non-attachment to stuff? When I talk about non-attachment, I don’t mean that you must take up the life of an ascetic, casting aside all material possessions. If you have beautiful things that give you pleasure, by all means keep them. If, on the other hand, all that stuff makes you feel weighted down or cluttered, as I talked about in a recent article, let it go. You can’t take it with you anyway. I think ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, cousin to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, said it best: “Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.”

Even more important is non-attachment as it relates to the people in our lives. That concept sounds very cold and when taken literally, I wouldn’t want that for anyone. People come and go in your life, relationships change, loved ones transition, impermanence means everything and everyone is transitory. When you lose someone especially close to you, your life changes and there is a big void in your heart. For me, non-attachment means that you find a way to enjoy life again, that your happiness is not dependent on someone else.

So clearly, non-attachment doesn’t mean that you just do nothing, feel nothing, have nothing. I believe activism and non-attachment can go hand in hand. We work like mad to create change, and then we let go of the need to control the outcome. That’s how non-attachment works in my life.

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