Is Attachment Really The Source of All Suffering?

“Attachment is the cause of all suffering.”

I hear this ancient teaching quoted often by yoga teachers, and the first thing that comes to mind is “What about my children, and the people in my life that I love?” Are those attachments not good, healthy, and even necessary things?

Often, the ancient texts, as they were written, have little to do with our lives today. That particular teaching, attachment is the cause of all suffering, was written for monks who were taking a vow to leave everything behind in order to devote themselves to a life of meditation. In the philosophy these teachings were part of, your body, emotions, and everything in the manifest world was considered an obstacle to fully experiencing Spirit. In order to merge with Spirit, these ‘obstacles’ needed to be transcended and left behind. If the people taking these vows remained attached to the things they were leaving behind, they suffered.

When quoting the ancient texts, it’s important to acknowledge who they were actually written for and to acknowledge that any application to modern life is an interpretation and not a literal translation. Unless we are taking a vow and entering a monastery, we need attachments. Healthy attachment is fertile ground for growth on all levels.

How this teaching might be interpreted goes something like this:

Attachment to the way we think things should be is the cause of all suffering.

A couple of weeks ago I noted that these last 2 years have been a master class in gratitude. They’ve also been a master class in acceptance. There’s no denying that it’s been a painful and inconvenient time. Some of us have let go of businesses we love, the ability to travel freely, and more. When we experience the pain of a situation, we are experiencing what IS. This is healthy and normal.

Suffering is different.

When we suffer, we’re obsessing over what we think something means. Suffering is the worry, denial, indignation, and struggle that we wrap around our pain.

Pain is acknowledging what IS:   I fell off my bike, broke my leg and it really hurts.

Suffering is getting lost in why, or how we think things should be:  Why me? Or, I should have taken a different route, or what if I limp for the rest of my life?

We can acknowledge pain, sit with it, and allow it to be. But suffering cannot sit still. It wrestles with the pain, judging it, placing blame, projecting it into the future, even making it a badge of honour. It’s the story we tell ourselves about our pain.

Using your yoga practice to help cultivate a spirit of acceptance doesn’t mean ‘it’s all good’, or that you’re happy with the situation. But regular practice can help you to acknowledge what is, so that you can continue to move forward without the chains of a story around it.

To suffer or not to suffer is your choice.

© Julie Smerdon 2021

Photo:  Pete Longworth

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