Some thoughts on attachment, hope, and fear

Posted on December 30, 2008
Filed Under Buddhism, elemental work, emptiness, Taylor Ellwood | Leave a Comment

I’ve been re-reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, and while I’m chonicling most of what I’m getting out of reading this book in my entry for the emptiness work, I read a passage that I thought I might share now:

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope-hope that the doubt and mystery will go away…The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean something is wrong…suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

and

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

When reading this you might think she’s incredibly negative, but I actually found what she said to be very helpful in terms of recognizing how my own feelings of hope have many times lead me into some fairly unhappy places because once they weren’t realized, I had to deal with the resultant unhappiness of not having them work out. Recently I’ve been dealing with this persistent feeling of hope about a situation in my life, and yet I realize that feeling is an attachment to a specific outcome that more than likely will not occur. Reading this passage earlier today was like peeling away another layer of onion on that feeling of hope. It’s not completely gone, but it is less in strength than before, because I acknowledge on a deeper level that the feeling is doing me no good, and actually causing a lot of suffering.

I think it’s incredibly hard to learn to let go of attachment in any form. A person can cling to it, despite the suffering, because there is an odd kind of comfort in the familiar pain the suffering causes. And letting go has a lot of unknowns to it. There is no definite reality, no result, no known…so initially it can be quite scary. Where will I be, where will I go? Better to say here with the familiar, even if it does hurt me. I’ve thought those very thoughts in the past many a time, and yet each time have found myself liberated and more at peace when I let go and stopped expecting anything. That’s one of my current challenges right now and while I haven’t quite let go yet, I can feel my grip loosening.

Seems like if you can approach a situation without attachment to an outcome, then that feeling of hope doesn’t hold you back as much. I never really thought of hope as attachment until re-reading this section of her writing, but it makes sense, and I can appreciate that now, because I understand how it’s held me back from just experiencing the present. So can I apply it now? Inevitably I will.

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