In a previous entry I discussed attachment to experience. Another attachment we may be holding onto that may make it difficult to move from one phase of our lives to another is an attachment to identity. Most recently, I’ve wrestled with the transition of my children from complete dependence on me to formation of their own independent personalities and social connections. It hasn’t been easy and I have in some ways “grieved” the loss of the little selves I was once totally responsible for. I so strongly identified with making their every meal, reading to them at night, and simply being the center of their world, that I’ve found it difficult to let go of the feeling of purpose that this all provided to me. The part that requires work is letting go of this attachment, realizing how necessary it is for me to do that, to allow my children to continue to grow and become adult versions of themselves. Should I not be able to let go of attachment of this identity, it will result in suffering for both me, in ruminating over something I can no longer have and for my children, who would feel me as a weight around their ankle on their journey toward adulthood.
Another significant attachment to identity I once held on to was being one of Jehovah’s Witness. Those who have never been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot relate to the fact that active membership in this religion requires not just full immersion at the time of one’s water baptism, but also full immersion in every aspect of one’s life. You are taught that you shall have no friends who aren’t also Jehovah’s Witnesses, that anyone outside the group is “bad association” who must be avoided at all costs, unless one is trying to indoctrinate them. It would follow then that one should only pick a mate who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses also. Many Witnesses also find that their employers are also Witnesses. So often a Witness’s entire social structure is built upon connections with only other Witnesses. Second to that is the fact that the daily and weekly activities completely revolve around ones carefully selected by the leaders of the group. From the daily Watchtower guided scripture reading, to the weekly meetings and the requirement that a certain amount of time be allocated to studying Watchtower publications and going “door-to-door,” trying to convince others to believe as they do, there is no time left for any pursuit connected with one’s own independent mind or interests. As a Witness, your identity is entirely connected to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Should one begin to doubt the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses then, one would have to be prepared to completely separate and let go of the identity they have known, which was all consuming. I’ve known some, like myself, who find themselves suddenly outside the tightly controlled group with no friends and no family, their entire social structure suddenly evaporated. The loneliness can be unbearable. The act of filling that void may take the shape of attachments to alcohol, drugs or undesirable and harmful relationships with other people. It took me many years to become aware and conscious of the reasons behind the attachments I formed and how to finally let go of them to achieve inner peace and happiness.
My greater understanding of the lessons my life has been seeking to teach me with regard to attachments came when I learned of “The Four Noble Truths” that Buddha taught 2,500 years ago. Now you do not have to convert to Buddhism to understand these Truths nor do you have to agree with everything Buddha taught; unlike tightly controlled groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhist teachings do not require that everyone accept all or none of it. Even Buddha himself said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” I like the idea that one does not have to completely immerse themselves in a belief system but can take a teaching that resonates with them, as the Four Noble Truths have with me. I won’t go into The Four Noble Truths in detail here, but the Second Noble Truth deals specifically with the origin of the cause of human suffering, which Buddha taught is the “Attachment to Desire,” which can be a desire for things we want or a desire to avoid things we don’t want. The idea that we can let go of these attachments is key to our achieving happiness.
Whenever I contemplate the difficulty of letting something go, whether it be an attachment to an identity I no longer have or an attachment to an experience, such as having my once youthful body, I think about what those attachments represent, such as a desire to have my children or my body obey my every command (both a form of desire for power), and then I focus on letting them go. This is not easy work, and work that I’ve found comes only with daily practice and meditation. If you’ve struggled with feeling any suffering over the nature of your attachments, I strongly suggest that you read “The Four Noble Truths” and then reflect upon how these Truths may be relevant in your own life.
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