Attachment to situations, ideas, habits, people, and things is part of being human. No doubt that we are creatures of habit, routine, and norms. We like to prepare ourselves, and we love the certainty of knowing what’s next. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we can adequately prepare, that we’ll be better equipped to deal with situations that arise. Consequently, we live with a lot of anxiety, a lot of fears, and a whole lot of worry.
Anxiety is tricky because it’s both an object and result of attachment. In other words, we experience anxiety because of our attachment to other things in our lives (i.e. routine, expectations, ideas, etc.), but we also attach to anxiety itself.
Eckert Tolle captures this idea perfectly in his book, The Power of Now:
Fear is of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now. You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap. And if you are identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of the Now, that anxiety gap will be your constant companion.
When anxiety becomes your constant companion, you may become so attached to your fears about the future that anxiety becomes your place of comfort – it becomes your friend. This familiarity then causes you to feel strange or uncomfortable when you try to ease your mind from worry or fear. Perhaps you may even feel out of touch or disconnected if you are not attaching to your distressful or worrisome thoughts.
Attachment is one way that individuals reinforce their habitual or automatic thoughts and feelings while avoiding the discomfort of change. While it may be difficult to start practicing non-attachment to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your life, you could benefit greatly from doing so. How?
Non-attachment allows for more flexibility and freedom of choice. You may start to feel more in control because you are not bound or restrained by your own ideas, thoughts, or previous experiences. You could cultivate more peace of mind, or a renewed sense of self. You may feel more accepting of your life, and more patient and compassionate with yourself. Most of all – you may find more joy and happiness. Why? Because you’ll stop living in the future or the past and start living in the Now.
As with anything, the best way to practice non-attachment is to start simple. Here are three ways that you can begin:
Shake up your routine
Do you always take the same route home from work? Do you go to the same coffee shop at the same time everyday? Do you always sleep until the last possible moment you can before waking up? The list could go on and on. But now it’s time to shake up your routine and do something different. Maybe that means waking up 20 minutes early to make tea, or to go for a walk before starting your day. Maybe it means checking out a new gym, or venturing out to a different grocery store. Perhaps it could take the form of signing up for a class you’re interested in, or going to buy paint supplies and a canvas to spend your Sunday afternoon creating a piece of art.
Regardless of what you do, just think of how you can add something unknown and not routine into your day. Breaking up your habits and the certainty of what’s next can help you start to get comfortable with living more presently. There’s no need to live in such a small box of routine. Let yourself out to do something different!
Question your motives
A big part of practicing non-attachment is challenging your habits and norms. It requires you to question your motives behind certain actions, and exploring those automated thoughts and feelings that carry you throughout your day. It means that you have to put effort into thinking not just about what you are doing, but why. Why do you feel the need to spend time with the friend that you don’t really like? Why does it upset you if something on your schedule is delayed or cancelled? Why do you continue to engage in a dialogue that seems to go nowhere? Why do you stay with that person who consistently hurts you?
Questioning your motives is one way to raise your awareness about those things you are attached to. And you must first have awareness before you can make behavioral changes.
Learn to live without
Here is my challenge to you: give up something for one entire week. You choose what that thing is, but you have to commit to not doing/using/seeing/eating/engaging in it for all seven days. The reason? To practice what it’s like to forgo something in your life, and to evaluate whether you enjoyed giving it up, whether it’s worth being in your life, and whether you want it back. If you decide that it’s necessary, then put it back – no harm done – and pick something else to give up.
Non-attachment is a lifelong practice that requires your awareness and attention, but it can get easier with time. In starting simple with some basic techniques, you can begin to get comfortable with letting go of all the unnecessary “stuff” in your life. Because the truth is – anxious feelings and thoughts are just “stuff” that we’ve attached to and could really do without.
Alyssa Yeo holds a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and a Certified Yoga Teacher. Alyssa uses an integrative approach to therapy with an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral and solution-focused methods to help clients achieve more balance in their lives.