Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Identity and attachment

Watching, listening to, or reading the news is often depressing.  Still, I want to have some idea of what's going on in the world so I try to keep abreast of current events.  This past week there has been a lot of talk about the flooding in Colorado.  Initially the rain was a welcome relief after a long drought.  But the rain kept coming...and coming and coming.  Several people have been killed and others are unaccounted for.  Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes. 

I was listening to coverage of the flood on NPR the other day.  A correspondent interviewed a woman in her early 20s who'd sought refuge at one of the evacuation shelters.  The woman had fled her home with her mother and their two cats.  She described trudging through waist-high water, cat claws digging into her shoulder, trying not to be swept away by the current.  She concluded the interview thus: "They're saying we can't go back to our houses for two, maybe three months...or if the dam breaks, maybe never.  I'm just glad we're alive and safe."

Whenever I hear stories like this I try to imagine what it would be like to lose everything you own.  How would I feel if faced with such an obstacle?  I'd probably be numb from shock at first.  And then I think I'd feel...completely lost.  If I had to start over with nothing where would I even begin?

My logical side reminds me that possessions - a house and what's in it - are just thingsThings do not make life meaningful.  Things can be replaced.  In fact, there are people who willingly give up their possessions to live a life of contemplation or devotion.  There are people who never stay in one place for long and who carry everything they own in a backpack or duffel bag.  So why is it that I cannot imagine my life without things

I know the answer almost as soon as I ask the question: attachment.  I am attached to the things I've worked hard to afford.  In my mind, these things have become part of who I am.  I think of these things as part of a life I have built for myself: a part of my life and so a part of my self

I am not a Buddhist but I agree with a lot of what the Buddha taught, especially about suffering.  The Buddha spoke of four noble truths.  Among those truths is this: attachment causes suffering.  Everything changes.  Nothing is permanent.  When we become attached to something - or someone - we cling to it; we want it to stay exactly as it is.  This is, of course, impossible because everything changes; nothing is permanent.  And so, when whatever we cling to changes, we suffer.  Sometimes we cling tighter.  Sometimes we cling instead to the memory of what was, of what we had, of what we lost.  We tell ourselves it shouldn't be this way.  And we suffer.

These are things I know but have forgotten.  Going forward, I will try to remember to accept what is without clinging to it.   


  1. My greatest healing came when I no longer held on to the idea of myself pre brain injury. That came with-in the first year out of a light-bulb moment…I had a "funeral" for my old self…a celebration.
    By the way I survived the 1976 flood in Colorado, ironically.

    1. I try to help my patients let go of the idea of themselves before PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Not everyone is able or willing to do this, but those that can are usually the ones who can go on to lead fulfilling lives.


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