Warning: Some readers may find this disturbing!
We've all heard spiritual teachings, especially those originating in Asia, speak of non attachment. It is understandable that some may find this idea unappealing if they confuse it with indifference. Others may feel comfortable with the idea of non attachment with regard to material possessions, but struggle with the idea when it comes to the personal relationships in their lives.
There is nothing wrong with experiencing feelings of attachment, in fact as human beings we are pretty much hard-wired to form attachments. It is part of our physical survival and propagation of the species instinct. Every human being has needs. From the moment we are born there are certain things we need to survive and thrive. There are the basic physical needs such as food, shelter, security and sex. There are also more complex needs that bridge the gap between our physical and spiritual selves, such as the need for social interaction and community, what I sometimes call “togetherness”.
When it comes to our spiritual or higher selves there is a far deeper and more profound drive toward connection. Notice I did not call it a need. Calling it a “drive” is also not entirely accurate. For our higher selves connection can almost be described as an incontrovertible universal force, like gravity. As spiritual beings, connection is not a need or even a desire, it simply is.
In terms of personal relationships, all kinds of trouble can ensue when we confuse attachment with connection. Attachment is a collection of thoughts and feelings that are born out of the ego. When we feel that someone is fulfilling a particular need that we believe is important to our survival, we feel a strong drive to hold onto them and not lose them. We fear that the loss of the individual or our relationship with them will in some way impede our survival or threaten our existence. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. It is part of our survival instinct and the reason our species is so successful in terms of maintaining and increasing its numbers over the millennia. Whether the person or people we feel attached to are providing for our very basic needs such as food and shelter or the more complex social needs, is not really relevant, the source of our attachment is nevertheless need. Need is not connection. Attachment is not connection. You can have relationships that include need and attachment, but are mostly based on and blessed with connection. This is wonderful. But unfortunately the world seems to be overrun with examples of relationships that are based mostly on need and attachment and do not include much connection. Usually these relationships end when one or more of the participants is no longer having their needs met. It irks me somewhat when I hear people use the word “connection” to describe their relationship with another when it is plain to see that there is very little connection happening and a whole lot of need and the fear-based feelings of attachment that spring from that.
The reason I feel it is important to clearly separate need-based attachment from connection in our understanding, is that we are evolving. As more and more of us begin to awaken to our higher potential, we can make this transition a whole lot smoother by knowing that connection can occur without attachment. I have observed that many people will not allow themselves to open up to or connect with another without first assessing the potential longevity of the relationship and which needs they can have met by the other. They may not be doing it consciously, but they are reluctant to allow a connection to occur with someone unless they believe there will be some need-based return on their investment. The result is that they miss out on hundreds of opportunities to grow and learn and share. The universe has generously arranged for them to rendezvous with someone for the sake of their mutual growth, and they have shut the door on that gift.
When you begin to understand connection to be a force on it’s own that has nothing to do with need or attachment, you begin to see the world and everyone in it as a friend and a teacher and an opportunity to grow. Connect for the sake of connection. It does not matter if it lasts five minutes or five decades. If you do then I promise you that the beauty and richness that will flow into your life and the lives of those around you will be unlike anything you've ever experienced before.