This is a crash course on how non-attachment doesn’t mean getting rid of desire. Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’ve already come across the idea of being too attached. “You shouldn’t be so attached!” an inner or outer voice will judgementally proclaim.
And many people have now heard of the idea of non-attachment - especially when it comes to desired outcomes.
But won’t cultivating non-attachment mean that you have to give up your passion? Isn’t desire what drives life? Can you still get things done? Can it even be sustained day to day? I’ll unpack the answer these questions later in this article. But first we need to lay a foundation.
A Loss In Translation
A lot of the ideas around non-attachment come from Eastern perspectives that have recently been imported into Western culture. There is probably something of a loss in translation.
Unfortunately, being detached has become quite synonymous with “spiritual bypassing” or avoiding the world. Or even worse, being overly rigid and unfeeling. In other words, mistakenly thinking that desire must be eliminated. Without desire, there is no life. More on this later.
The practice of non-attachment (surrender, letting go, temperance are other similar words pointing at the same) has traditionally been a part of Western & Christian culture too.
But surrender is also misunderstood by so many. It’s seen as being a passive reaction to giving up in the face of challenges. This is NOT what it means.
“Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
― Meister Eckhart
Have You Experienced Non-Attachment?
Actual non-attachment doesn’t occur in the intellectual domain. It’s more like an expanded state of consciousness - which in truth cannot be put into words. You know, when the veil lifts and you suddenly feel love for everyone and everything? Or you feel at a very deep level how all is One and your sense of separation melts?
When you feel this oneness with Life you don’t feel like you need anything. You realize that you are already whole and complete. This is closer to the idea of non-attachment.
Not everyone has had - or pays attention to - these inner experiences, of course (I’ve actually had them many times while shopping at Costco, believe it or not!). And some people have had them, noticed them, but written them off as unimportant in the scheme of things. Overall however, more and more people seem to be having spiritual “awakening” experiences these days.
Note: still probably quite a small percentage of the general population.
I Made This Subtle Mistake With Non-Attachment
In the past, I would make this mistake. Even though I’d been serious about the work of letting go for many years, I always had a few important goals that I was passionately pursuing.
But I still had some underlying conflict about having these desires. As if it was somehow wrong. Unspiritual. Especially when it came to dealing with money.
I’m past that stage of my growth now - but it was an interesting few chapters in the arc of my spiritual understanding.
Even the desire to be spiritually enlightened is a desire. It may well be a high and pure desire, but it’s a desire nonetheless.
If you’re having any guilt about what it is that you want in worldly ways, the key is to start being aware of it. Don’t judge. Simply watch it in action when it happens. And remember, whatever it is, even that is part of the One Life unfolding.
It’s ironic because this guilt or aversion to worldly desires is ultimately something to let go of! Letting go is a better way of describing non-attachment that I much prefer. Maybe because it’s more action oriented.
And I think that letting go more accurately describes how to enter that expanded state where you’re not super attached to the outcome, but you still have the fire for creating it.
Remember, if all is One Life, then the world and Spirit are not separate. But our minds fragment experience in order to grasp it. Figure it out. Nothing wrong with that - no more than having reflexes in our muscles. We just need to understand how to work with it.
5 Steps To Creating What You Want In Life Without Forcing It
Non-attachment and letting go of desired outcomes are the fundamental skills required when it comes to creating more of what you want in life. Although books could be (and are!) written about all that’s involved, I want to keep things simple for his crash course. So here’s a brief outline of the creative process:
1. Getting clear about what it is that you want to create whether it’s business, love, money, health, etc. The key is that you need to feel aligned with this desire within yourself. This takes some work to uncover because it’s about what you truly want. Not what you think you should want. Or rebelling against what you think others want you to want.
2. Once you’re clear on what this is, use your imagination to visualize what it would be like having it. Make this a regular thing. Watch for any attachment to outcomes as well as any resistance or doubt. These “blocks” will most definitely arise at some point when you visualize your ideal.
3. This is where letting go skills come in. If you can stay open while simply observing these old beliefs or doubts - along with any thoughts/feels that seem almost addictive in their craving - and really look at them without trying to fix them or change them, they will begin to lose their power.
4. When you’re done, turn the whole thing over to The Power That Knows The Way (God, Goddess, All That Is). Surrender the outcome completely. As best you can. Don’t force or overthink this. Just ask “could I turn this over to the Divine Power?” Use whatever words work for you that point to Higher Power or Divine Intelligence, etc.
5. Take action. Take even a small action every day. This is where you will gather more information, awareness and feedback to guide you. It’s also the best way to find out what is holding you back. Because those limitations will come up! This is a great opportunity to let them go! But how do you let limiting feelings or beliefs go?
By focusing on the process and allowing the results to take care of themselves. In other words, non-attachment from the outcome.
Trusting in The Universe (The Power That Knows The Way, The One, Life, etc.) becomes much easier with practice and more frequent dips into expanded awareness.
When you first start this practice of surrender, you may still have many layers of the desire to want to control things. If this is the case, allow it. It too, is part of the Flow of The One Life! Every time you do this, layers of conditioned limits stored in body-mind will dissolve.
The traditional Magician card from tarot illustrates the harmony between non-attachment and desire perfectly.
He is pointing up to heaven to show his connection with Divine Intelligence and he’s wearing a red robe to symbolize his passion and desire. Desire is necessary to manifest and create or co-create. It’s how you channel the energy behind desire that counts.
Sustaining Non-Attachment In Day To Day Life
You’re probably already well aware that the thoughts in your head are non-stop! And if you take a moment right now to watch them, you’ll notice that the first thing is you believe those voices to be you.
If you deepen your attention just a bit longer while observing, you’ll suddenly see that they aren’t you - they are just thoughts!
If you take a minute more, you’ll even begin to realize that these thoughts are just happening automatically. They seem to work through random association.
However, you’ve probably noticed that you can direct your thoughts on purpose. If you choose to think about something right now, you probably can.
Note: Freewill is a huge debate among philosophers and mystics. And I have some ideas of my own. But let's just keep our conversation simple and down to earth.
How long you can sustain focus with that is something else. But please don’t force this. It’s not healthy for your mind. Allow your mind to roam. While it does, you remain present as the space in and upon which the thoughts rise and fall.
As you identify more with the space-intelligence (or Awareness or Beingness) as opposed to the thoughts, you are gaining inner strength and spiritual power.
This is what is meant by non-attachment. It’s not being attached to thought. Ultimately, it’s not being identified with the thought based sense of self. This can be practiced - but also occurs spontaneously through grace.
Won’t Being Non-Attached Make Me Passive? Without Passion?
This is a very common and important question!
Because if you don’t care about the outcome and nothing bothers you anymore, where will you get your motivation to change anything from?
This brings us to…
Paradox Is Divine
Ah! Divine Paradox. Life is One BUT there appears to be a multitude of individual creatures and creations. Paradox is also involved with non-attachment or letting go.
What many of us do when we first hear about being detached is to try and control ourselves in some way.
This is just another form of suppression.
We think we shouldn’t want what we want. Maybe this isn’t consciously recognized, but it’s a subconscious belief for many of us on this planet.
This is usually accompanied by guilt or a fear of risk and failure.
This isn’t letting go. This is NOT what was meant by the masters who talked about non-attachment as a virtue.
The Secret Of Non-Attachment & Desire
The secret of non-attachment is inner freedom. It’s actual freedom. Not something that is imposed upon the mind by the mind. Again, that is suppression. Not healthy or good for you.
So HOW do you do this? By letting go. Letting go is making the choice to surrender the outcome. To surrender even your desire. How can this possibly work?
Remember paradox? By letting go of holding on to the desire as if it were something solid, you free up a tremendous amount of energy.
You see, desire is always in motion. This is represented in Tarot by the Fool which says that everything is always beginning. Each apparent moment.
So visualize what you want. Allow for any resistance that comes up such as “I can’t have this” or “who am I to have this” etc. Allowing is the same thing as letting go. Allowing means not trying to fix or change anything.
And then surrender the outcome to your version of Higher Power.
Of course, you need to have a felt connection with Higher Power or God/Goddess/All That Is in order to be effective. This can take practice - but what else should we do while here on earth besides align with the Divine in order to co-create a better world?
Thought Patterns And Self-Sabotage
Over the years (or lifetimes!), many thoughts congregate into patterns, beliefs and tendencies.
Tendencies such as being more introverted or athletic or loving animals are fine. They aren’t usually very amenable to change anyways.
But many of the repetitive patterns that were formed as kind of a shield against being hurt are often not helpful in life. In fact, they are the very things that hold us back from going for what we want in life!
Or, even if we do go for what we want, it’s actually what others want us to want. Sometimes, it’s a reaction against what others want us to want.
Attachment And Aversion
You know all about attachment. But did you realize that aversions are just the opposite end of the stick?
An aversion is something you do everything in your power to avoid. That’s just another attachment or form of wanting to control the Flow of Life when it’s already happening.
Now, it’s natural to avoid pain and to want pleasure. But where we get into trouble is when these thought patterns crystallize and distort our pleasure and bring us more pain!
Or we always default to instant pleasure instead of consistently pursuing a longer term goal. The amazing thing is that you can let go of these thought patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you.
That’s what most spiritual or magical practices are aiming at with whatever rituals or meditations are involved. But why not simply go straight there? Why not choose to let go directly?
The Power of Letting Go
When you let go you are free. You don’t have to believe in anything. You don’t have to beat yourself up because you’re not living up to a standard you or someone else told you you need to.
You don’t have to cut yourself off from any parts of yourself because you think you should be a “saint.” You don’t have to do any harsh ascetic practices (unless you want to and you enjoy that kind of thing!)
You don’t have to feel guilty for falling. In fact, if you do feel guilty, you can just let that go!
When you let go you are free to be yourself. You can want what you want. You can take action toward you dreams without feeling guilty.
As you do this, you will come into alignment with your true desires because you’ll accomplish some desires and others you won’t. This is a basic condition of Life here. You win some and lose some.
Other desires or dreams will change and you’ll realize you no longer want them.
Don’t worry! When you let go, you won’t turn into a narcissistic ass! The more you let go of negative feelings/thoughts, the more courage, love, strength and wisdom are revealed. This is because they are your natural qualities that have been covered over by conditioning.
There Is One Life
If you sense, or even intellectually understand, that there is One Life manifesting as the many, then that’s all you need to know.
Because even if you have an experience that’s not playing out how you want, or a heavy challenge, you can consider the possibility that even this negative emotion or challenging experience is part of the One Life unfolding.
This can really help with not beating yourself up or suffering any more than you already are.
And when you’ve deepened your felt and intuited connection to the One Life, you’ll find meaning in any suffering. And suffering stops being suffering the moment we can find meaning in it.
You may even begin to realize that the sunshine is always there behind the “negative thoughts clouds” whenever you need it!
Non-Attachment & Desire: Key Takeaways
1. Non-attachment is not an intellectual understanding. It comes from the heart when thoughts are quieter and we have a felt connection to all life in the moment.
2. Desire is absolutely necessary to create in life! When we are in the moment with the process of creating, the energy of desire is naturally channeled to its most effective use. It’s aligned with who we truly are.
3. When our desire is blocked from flowing naturally, it drains our energy for effective action.
4. Think of a time that you did something really well. How it seemed to just flow. There may even have been a tremendous amount of effort involved, but there was no strain.