I want to write a little about non-attachment. I want to write this as if I was floating on a little lotus flower in the clouds, but in reality I have Hoarding on TLC on in the background and am waiting on my husband to come out of the study so that I can tell him to turn up the heat ’cause I’m too lazy to get up.
So take everything I say with a grain of salt.
I was a religion major in college. Religions, all religions, have always fascinated me. I love learning about the many diverse ways that we attempt to reach God, and I believe there are as many journeys to God as there are people who have walked this earth. That being said, I believe in a universal truth, but from a culturally relativistic perspective. Meaning, I don’t believe two directly opposing views can both be truth, but I also believe that views which appear contradictory but are not directly opposing may also be true. We’ve all probably got it a little bit wrong and a little bit right.
In my studies of Buddhism, one of the most fascinating topics to me was the idea of non-attachment. I’m over simplifying here, but essentially, to reach Nirvana or enlightenment, one must be come completely unattached to all desires. Stories that chronicle the lives of the Buddha prior to his life as Siddhartha Gautama (the historical figure) tell of his journey of non-attachment. Immediately prior to his life as Gautama, he allowed his wife and children to be eaten by a Tiger, and thus had reached perfect non-attachment. He was completely free from all desires.
Most Buddhist teachings don’t encourage tigers eating children, but the theme of non-attachment is very central to Buddhism. When I was diagnosed with IC, I started thinking about how and what I was attached to.
I joke to John often (and my mother-in-law made the same comment!) that I am basically living in a permanent Lent. No alcohol, coffee, chocolate, those have been hard to give up. Are they bad things? Maybe not the best, but certainly not bad. What about taking four classes? How about dancing? What about sitting and lying down? Now those things are definitely not bad things. But when my IC began, they are things I had to give up (obviously not completely; I don’t sleep standing up).
I had become attached to so many things in my life. I didn’t even realize how attached I had become until I was forcibly detached. I was not willing to give up these things because I was attached to them. Even though they were not harmful, they were things I didn’t realize how much I desired until they were gone. All the changes I have gone through would have undoubtedly been easier if I had not been attached to them in the first place. I was attached to the idea of being spontaneous, of easy going. I was attached to the idea of being a girl who could take a shot of whiskey, of someone who cherished her morning cup of coffee, and liked her food the spicier the better. It was not the simple act of no longer eating Indian food or diving into a chocolate cake that was hard, it was severing my attachment to what these things represented to me. Ease. Fun. Freedom.
Mainly, my desire was to lead a normal life, one that was free and easy. A normal life is not a bad thing. But it was an idea that I was terribly attached to.
So would non-attachment have been a better path? There is much I am still attached to. My husband, my family, my friends, my life. Those are not things I am willing to detach from.
I want to segway into discussing the idea of attachment in Christianity. There are lots of verses and such that I could point to to parallel the Buddhist idea of non-attachment with similar themes in Christianity. Store your treasures in heaven not on earth, etc. The idea is there. But I am going to contrast, rather than compare, because it’s my blog and I can.
Ignatian spirituality emphasizes the idea of desire, the direct opposite of non-attachment. Wanting vs. not wanting. Focusing on rather than ignoring our cravings.
But the question here is: what should we crave? What should we desire? Desire in and of itself is not beneficial. In the same vein, non-attachment in and of itself is not beneficial. Being detached protects us from pain when that which we are attached to is no longer available, but detachment can prevent love from growing as well.
Desire is only beneficial when we desire certain things. So sayeth a Jesuit priest:
Desire helps us find our way. But we first have to know them.
The deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires. Not only desires for physical healing, but also the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life. Our deepest desires, those desires that lead us to become who we are, are God’s desires for us. They are ways that God speaks to you directly. source
Our desires show us what we want to be, what we want to become. But it’s pretty obvious that not all of our desires are good. And even things that we desire that are inherently pretty good (like chocolate or finding a spouse) can lead to pain when those desires aren’t met.
So we need to look at what we are truly desiring, deep down, what is at the root of all of our desires. And what is at the root of those desires is likely something we can find in God. Focusing completely on becoming unattached isolates ourselves from God, from life. But there is value in detaching ourselves from desiring what is not truly God. I can desire to have a “normal life” all I want, but that desire is one that is not likely to come true, and so the more I desire it, the more I open myself up to hurt and disappointment. But I am still free to desire God.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
So what do you think about these spiritual paths? Desire vs. detachment? Are there benefits to both? Are they irreconcilable? What are your insights?