The True Meaning of Non-Attachment and How It Sets You Free

Autumn Forest Path

Sadly, non-attachment or detachment as proposed in Buddhism is radically misunderstood by many.  Non-attachment actually brings about the most profound sense of care, compassion, and freedom you could ever imagine.

But, I understand why the word “detachment” might send chills up your spine.  So let’s set the picture straight.

What Does Non-Attachment Really Mean?

Non-attachment doesn’t mean being cold as a stone. Emotions don’t cease to exist as you learn to let go.  You just relate to them differently because you understand their ephemeral nature.  And that, thank goodness, means there’s a lot less to get riled up about.

For example, even great spiritual teachers:

  • Cry
  • Smile
  • Laugh
  • Play

They may have moments when impatience or frustration arises, too.  They’re ultra human, and not indifferent in the least.

But, they don’t entangle themselves in these emotional states by firing up aversion for the “negative” or wanting to extend the “positive.”   They allow emotions to rise and dissolve.  They don’t feed emotions, fuel drama, or express distress by engaging in knock-on negative behaviors.  They have perspective.

This takes considerable practice, but virtually everyone has the power to tame their mind through cultivating mindfulness and awareness.

The Beauty of Non-Attachment

When you understand the true meaning of non-attachment:

  • Expectations no longer rule your life.
  • Emotions arise, but you have space.  You have perspective.  Emotions don’t catch and torment you every time.
  • You relate to the world as it is rather than to your concepts about it, which never bring lasting happiness.
  • You have a clarity of mind so you’re able to see through to the truth of things.
  • You’re not bothered by much, but that doesn’t mean you tolerate harmful behavior.
  • The problems of this world evoke compassion rather than anger.
  • You don’t chase after happiness.  You just enjoy it when it’s present, and release it when it dissolves.
  • You’re able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything.
  • You don’t stop loving.  You love even more.
  • Your heart only grows bigger and bigger and bigger, when you see all the unnecessary suffering in this world.
  • You feel naturally compelled to help, but you’re not attached to the outcome.
  • The sense of spaciousness and freedom you feel bring a genuine contentment that can never be found in temporary experiences.

You are free because you’re in charge of your mind and emotions instead of them bossing you around.  And, with this freedom, you can taste the distinct flavor of every experience with no need to squeeze it tightly to your chest.

P. S. This post was inspired by a young man’s passionate rally against non-attachment and impermanence, which you’ll find here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb-OYmHVchQ#t=155  You might also appreciate Sigmund Freud’s reflections  On Transience, mentioned in the video.

Thank you for reading and sharing! If you liked this article, please subscribe for free updates by email and connect with me on FacebookWith love, Sandra

 

28 thoughts on “The True Meaning of Non-Attachment and How It Sets You Free

  1. Oh thank you, for this Sandra. I’m one of those who apparently had the wrong end of the stick about non-attachment and you’ve set out a new, less limiting concept for me.

    Really loved this post.

  2. Thank you for this! That was my thought when I watched the video, kept seeing it shared, was that he had the notion of non-attachment all wrong, and I kept saying so, but you explained it so much more clearly.

    • You’re so very welcome, Jill! I didn’t know that the video had been shared so often. I’m glad I spoke up. And thanks for spreading such goodness via your wonderful blog.

  3. Learning non-attachment has drastically changed my life for the better. To me, non-attachment means accepting what is and choosing to work with it for the highest good. My experience is that usually it – whatever it is – is even better than what I could have thought of.

    The universe is full of wonderful surprises. We just have to see them as such! :)

    • That’s a wonderful definition of non-attachment, Debbie. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m glad that your experience is unfolding so positively. I always love seeing you.

  4. Wise post Sandra, and really getting to the root of non-attachment. It’s not that we should stay away from our emotions or thoughts, but instead experience them and let them float away. Think of our emotions and thoughts as passing clouds, not something to be captured or held forever.

    The biggies for me have been to reduce my expectations when I do things and also let go of outcomes. Life has taught me that I have no control over those thigns anyway but my ego has usually thought otherwise lol Letting go of both reduces a lot of frustration and disappointment.

    • You have an excellent understanding of non-attachment, Vishnu. Expectations and outcomes, hope and fear, can be the real enemy! You have really found a key to more enjoyment of life by letting go of these two.

  5. Thank you for this post, it’s an area I’ve been aware for some time I need to address, and you’ve outlined it in a way that makes so much sense. I know I have ridiculous control-freak issues, and yes – I need to let the heck GO a bit!

    • Dear Tara,

      I’ve been there and I can’t say I’ve entirely let go of my tendency to want to control thing. But, I’m so much better than before. I think you’ll find the same thing once you start practicing letting go. Knowledge is power and you’ve taken the first big step. Good luck!

  6. Hey, Sandra, I think about non-attachment a lot (probably because of your posts :)
    and I am always checking in to see how attached I am to an outcome. One of the things I have learned by living as long as I have, is to do whatever I need to do to process the sadness, fear, grief, anger, and then, see other alternatives that I can choose instead of the thing that I wanted or wanted to happen. I think that I am, or have become, pretty flexible and what I call “adjustable” to situations that were not my first choice (or any choice). Occasionally, I hit a very inflexible area of my feeling or thinking, but I am pretty good about changing and being ok with something I didn’t want or didn’t expect. This is probably about as close to non-attachment as I have gotten so far, and it really does make life a lot easier. I am very aware of the areas in my life in which I am not at all flexible, and, of course, there, the fear of loss or change, is quite intense and painful. So keep on writing these posts and maybe I will be able to work on those areas also.

    • You really have a good perspective, Jean. I love the way you bring the idea of “flexibility” into the equation. Flexibility makes such a huge difference in terms of our comfort level in life.

      I agree that’s it’s not a good idea to try to stuff our feelings. It’s better to let them up and out of our system without harming ourselves or anyone else. As you suggestion, having healthy ways to do this is important.

      I think you are doing so well when it comes to non-attachment. I think non-attachment is a life long practice and naturally there are going to be areas of our life that are more difficult to let go in.

      OK, I’ll keep writing and we’ll both keep working on it!

  7. Hi Sandra, detachment and non- attachment have been two different terms for me and I am amazed at the way you have used them as if they are synonyms!

    Let me explain…some relationship are build on non-attachment, we don’t care if they don’t respond warmly, we are content with meeting such people occasionally and forget about them till we happen to meet them again. Their lack of care or being away doesn’t bother us. On the other hand are those who are very close to our heart, we seem to breathe their love and care, we seem to thrive just because of their presence around us, we are deeply hurt if they don’t respond with the same sentiments and it is harder to detach from them.

    This post has opened a completely new window of my mind…I love the phrase ” You don’t stop loving. You love even more.”
    Thanks Sandra for this reassurance that detachment adds to our love and care. Love you for that!

    • That’s so interesting, Balroop. I’ve never consider a different between detachment and non-attachment and sometimes people use the words interchangeably to describe the Buddhist view of non-attachment.

      I understand how you are differentiating between different groups of people, which is our natural condition. From a Buddhist perspective though, the aim is love everyone equally but without attachment. So in that case detachment goes out the window too! I’m glad this post opened a new window in your mind.

      Not that any of this is easy to accomplishing. It’s certainly an ongoing practice.

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  9. Thank you for this post. I am trying – every moment – to accept what is. Holidays are here and I am coping with ‘sad feelings’ (due to the loss of my youngest daughter – will be 2 years on Jan. 5th 2014). It is difficult, for me, to” ‘love someone with every fiber of my being and, yet, be able to ‘let them go’”. My daughter’s (Dawn – the daughter who passed) dog also was euthanized this past weekend. Pasha was an 18 yr. old staffordshire terrier that grew up with every one of my grandchildren. So sweet, gentle and affectionate. She could no longer walk, was not eating and had lost control of her bladder and bowels. It was time to ‘let her go’, but I cried all weekend. I am aware of my emotions, of my sadness (which arises and passes) – and being more mindful is helping — but not very much.
    So many memories arise within my mind of holidays past (when I was a child, when life seemed so carefree and I felt so safe, when my Mom and Dad were here, when my daughter was here, etc….). These memories are just that: memories of the past. They are moments that are gone – and yet — I seem to not be able to let go of them. The holidays are always harder for me now.
    That being said, I am blessed to have 5 wonderful grandchildren and my older daughter — and I know they love me very much. Even tho I have health issues and am ‘sad’ at times, I know I must keep ‘going’.
    Metta meditation helps somewhat, but sometimes while doing my metta meditation I feel the tears falling down my cheeks.
    I am trying to be more aware of the present moment – of the moments that come and go – of the feelings and thoughts that come and go. It will take me a while (I feel) for me to be able to realize that the ones we love also ‘come and go’.
    Thank you again for reminding me about non-attachment.
    Sandy

    • Hi Sandy,

      I fully understand what a challenging time this is for you. Of course, sad and painful feeling are going to arise and past memories as well. Please take care of yourself as best you can. There isn’t an easy answer. Meditation isn’t about making that all go away, but rather accepting whatever rises and doing our best not to dwell on it too much. But understandably, until we become proficient at meditation, and that can take years, strong emotions will still sweep us away. It’s OK if emotions arise during your metta meditation; that’s normal.

      Please do your best to take care of yourself. If you need to get extra support with counseling, you might consider that. It can really help during these holiday times. Distract yourself if necessary at times if the pain is too much. And focus on those beautiful grandchildren and daughter who are very much here with you.

      I’ll be thinking of you over the holidays, sending you love.

  10. You have shared wonderful insights on non-attachment, Sandra. It feels like a more peaceful way to live. I like them all, but the first one, “Expectations no longer rule your life.” spoke to me. When we let go of expectations, we aren’t disappointed, yet we can be happy with what does come our way. Thanks for a great post!

    • That’s a beautiful insight about expectation, Cathy. And so very true! This is a much more peaceful way to live our life. Thanks for bringing in this peaceful aspect.

  11. Hi Sandra,
    Detachment is a and immensely empowering attitude.This is specifically hel[pful in the modern world where we feel the speed of change,and the way it overtakes us.
    And we need to becalm our nerves by understanding that change need not be all threatening and earth shattering always.It means the end of something and beginning of another.
    The new beginning cannot and need not always be distasteful.It can herald the beginning of a great journey towards growth.
    Only an insightful approach centered in deep detachment form outcomes can elevate us to such a level.
    Thanks
    Mona

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