You’ll notice that the discussions on Patheos these days reflect the fact that people have a lot of concerns about the world. They are worried about the latest political trends as people become polarized on the left and right. They are worried about global affairs as worldviews clash in a more connected, interdependent world. They are worried about our shared environment as the planet faces the threat of global warming and pollution. They are right to be concerned since today’s world is indeed a topsy-turvy and sometimes dangerous place. I suppose our collective question is this: What should we, as spiritual people, do?
This is an especially complex question for those who follow the philosophies of Tao, since this is a path that emphasizes non-attachment and acceptance. Back in September of 2016, I wrote a blog for Patheos that discussed the pitfalls of attachment and the three kinds of attachment that give people trouble. In the next three blogs, I will go deeper into each of those kinds of attachment, explaining how to identify and deal with each. Before we begin, I would like to clarify precisely what is meant by “non-attachment.”
Non-attachment Does Not Mean Not Caring
One misconception about the idea of non-attachment is that it means not caring what happens. This is not true at all. In fact, in a truly non-attached state, your heart is more open and receptive to the needs of others than ever. Attachment, in the spiritual sense, is about the ego and the ways that it wants to protect, defend, and cultivate an individual’s desires, or in some cases the collective egoic desires of groups of people. Attachments are the things that egos believe must happen in the world based on beliefs and preconceptions that people hold. When these ego desires are not met, negativity follows in some form, ranging from annoyance and petty quarrels in the mildest form to violence and wars in the most extreme.
In a state of non-attachment, an individual can hold any opinion and preference they want, but it does not interfere with their own happiness or that of others. People make the world a miserable place when they become so deeply attached to their own beliefs that they cannot compromise or find common ground. This is at the root of the political polarization and ideologically motivated violence we see in the world. Being non-attached allows one to consider all points of view and to remain peaceful inside and out when the choices of others do not match our desires.
You Can Be a Non-attached ActivistBeing non-attached does not mean you have to sit home meditating while the world becomes more unlivable. In fact, you can be a fully engaged activist while remaining non-attached. I created the Earth Citizen Movement as an example of how that can happen. I feel very strongly about the state of the earth since this is our common home and we will not get a second chance if we ruin the planet. A while ago, I had a dream about the two choices we have—a lush and thriving earth or an earth that is scorched and bereft of life. Those involved in the Earth Citizen Movement work to raise people’s awareness about this very important choice; they are true activists.
Of course, even people in the Earth Citizen Movement could become attached to their own objectives. That would be self-destructive, though, since the point of the movement is to unite with others under our common dependence on the earth. To succeed, we need to be able to listen to other environmental activists and even to people who want to deny that there is a problem.
If you are truly unattached, you can even accept that people might make all the wrong decisions. They might choose to cling to habits that destroy the environment, and they might choose violence over the possibility of peace. As much as you might not like those choices, if you maintain non-attachment you will still be able to love them and to feel your oneness with them, which is always the key to creating peace, no matter how bad things get.
Join Our Exploration of Attachments
Over the next few weeks, I will look more deeply at the three kinds of attachment—attachment to control, security, and recognition. There is not a single human who has ever been born who has not been affected by these forms of attachment, and examining and reducing these attachments is key to awakening and to lasting happiness. Please join us and see if you can uncover this key for your own growth and fulfillment.