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We’ve heard a good deal about attachments this month, because February.  But because realistically, none of us are likely on the bus for nirvana this week, I wanted to take a look at attachment from a more practical perspective.


It can seem like we form attachments to so many things: people, events, material possessions.  I don’t know about you, but I can even get attached to things that aren’t even real, like outcomes that I want to come to pass.  But I think we have to start by asking a simple question:


Are all attachments necessarily bad?


I think you know where I’m going with this.  I recognize attachments I have that I would not want to lose.  I’m fairly attached to my partner, our pets, and most days to my children.  I don’t find these to be unhealthy attachments – I recognize that under different circumstances, they could become so, but they’re not unhealthy per se.


What makes an attachment unhealthy?  I suspect there are many different ways to answer this, but after giving this some thought, I think the dividing line between a healthy attachment and an unhealthy one is the effect that it has on me: on my sense of self or self-worth, on my well-being and security in the future.  My connection with my partner brings me happiness, makes me hopeful for the future, so I’m putting this one in the healthy column.


On the other hand, a change in an otherwise healthy attachment could be a clear sign that I need to do some work to prevent the attachment from becoming unhealthy.  I think most of us can probably relate to the negative effect on our sense of self that can result from a break-up; no matter how healthy things might have seemed while the relationship was ongoing, if it ends, there’s a real danger of the remaining attachment becoming unhealthy.  And there are all sorts of ways that can manifest, right?


I want to look at some of these unhealthy by-products of attachment.  Fear of change, or maybe fear of the future more broadly, can be a sign of attachment gone awry.  Many of us will say, “I don’t like change,” but what we really mean is that we don’t like change that we don’t like; winning a five-figure lottery would be a change for most of us, but I suspect that few of us wouldn’t like that particular change.


On the other hand, focusing too much on the future, or maybe more specifically a specific future, can also signal an unhealthy attachment.  I said earlier that this is one of my own emotional traps: I’ll get attached to a particular outcome, like getting the job after what I feel was a successful interview, and then I get wrecked when I don’t get the job after all.  And sometimes I even let it affect my sense of self.  Tying one’s self-image to a particular circumstance or outcome is probably unhealthy, and could even be dangerous.  The bad break-up means the relationship didn’t work out; it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you because it didn’t work out.


Because this is a sermon, we need to take a look at the Doctrine for advice.  The Fourth Teaching says:


Jedi practise non-attachment, maintaining an awareness that the cycles of creativity and renewal in the Force give rise to phenomena as others pass away. 


So how do we practice non-attachment?  The remainder of this Teaching points to meditation for insight into the impermanence of any particular thing, and that’s undoubtedly the place we can all start from.  But there are some other steps we can take in meditation as well.  I’ve found that it helps to examine the source of effects on the self such as we outlined earlier.  So I didn’t get the job, why exactly am I letting that negatively affect me?  And maybe it’s just that I really wanted the job, but benign though it seems, that’s still an unhealthy attachment if I didn’t get the job after all.


It’s also important in these situations to remain aware of your own inner dialogue.  In the aftermath of an unfavorable circumstance, like our hypothetical break-up, it can be easy to allow negative self-talk to hijack our cognitive systems, and we can’t put a stop to an unhealthy practice until we become aware of it.


We also need to develop more flexible ways of handling our own view of self, so that we’re not spun out when our expectations of ourselves or of the future don’t pan out the way we want them to.  I know from experience that identifying too closely with one’s occupation or profession can be dangerous when that circumstance is no longer there.  And I know from experience that the art of letting go is just that: an art.


Things come, and things go, and the only constant in life is change.  It’s crucial to be mindful of our attachments, not to reject them out of hand, but to prevent ourselves from over-identifying with conditions that may not be permanent.


Be well.  The Force will be with you.