A Buddhist (and Axl Rose) Perspective on Attachment

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that the beginning of any adventure is generally filled with excitement, intrigue and enthusiasm. Whether it’s a new job, relationship or home – or simply a different way of cooking potatoes – you really can’t beat that honeymoon period of trying something new and sharing what you learn along the way. The uneasy, yet hopeful journey of a road less travelled (at least by you…) is the best part of any new venture, along with the positive intentions and habit changes we all insist will follow!

But as the wise and beautiful Axl Rose once sang: “nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain”! And oh how wise and reflective that rock God is! Now, I’m pretty sure these lyrics were intended to provide a positive encouragement to an otherwise heart-breaking situation, but I can’t help but relate these words to the inevitable destination for most things in life. Situations begin and end. We are born and we die. It rains and then it stops (if we’re lucky). Life goes on in a circular of starts and finishes, in which no one factor is truly the creator of either state. To quote a slightly gentler but none the less emotional Elton classic: “It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all”.download (2)

But as a race, we are programmed to look for the control of what stays and goes in our lives. The loss of people, situations and belongings causes us sadness and pain, and we often cling in desperation to what we are not prepared to let go of. But this attachment runs deep into our whole outlook on life, even in places we didn’t know existed.  Maybe it’s the attachment to our belongings and lifestyle, or to the beliefs and ideals we have always maintained. Or maybe it runs even deeper than that, to the attachment with ourselves and who we think we are as a person. My whole life I have bought into the idea of “finding myself”; a fictional persona who – once found – would open up my eyes to my true identity. The fact is we are more attached to our identities than we’d like to admit, and it can often be the cause of our unhappiness.

Green Noble Truths? 

This focus on personal attachment is at the forefront of Buddhist philosophy, in which the Four Noble Truths state that:

  1. We all experience suffering in some form or another
  2. This suffering is cause by our desires, ignorance and hatred
  3. This suffering can be prevented by relinquishing our attachments; physically, mentally and spiritually.
  4. This can be achieved by following the The Eightfold Path (or Middle Way) to a life full of balance and enjoyment, free from attachment.

But what does this mean in reality? And more importantly what does this have to do with green living?! Well my answer is simple: happiness is much easier to achieve than we think. I know for a fact that the majority of stuff I consume is directly linked to my desires and attachments. Whether its clothes, jewellery or make-up to create the physical identity of Trudi, or the structures and lifestyle props I surround myself with to embody the person I think I am. I am Trudi. I am vegan. I am passionate about sustainability. I like cats. The more you attach yourself to your idea of self, the more you inevitably surround yourself with the things which reinforce this persona.

Even those of us who believe we live a minimal, green lifestyle know that if asked tomorrow to step away from everything we own, we’d all be left quivering in the corner clutching our reusable bags and kilner jars in fear!  But we’re all too scared to admit this attachment to our “green lifestyles”, in fear of appearing contrived and contrary to the whole ethos we promote to others. Live minimal, live zero waste, live with no footprint…but don’t take away my composter, organic cotton dress or fermentation kit!

everyday eightfold path

So what is the answer then Mrs smarty pants? If even a green lifestyle is tainted by desires and artificial attachments –  destined to bring amble bouts of November rain – how on earth are we supposed to reach the blissful state of Nirvana? Well one answer is to follow the Buddhist Eightfold Path of Right view, Right intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, and Right concentration. Maybe all that turning right will guide you back through that circle of life, but for me I’m sure there’s a simpler way!

If we could simply accept that nothing lasts forever – to be thankful for what we have and make the most of it, but reduce our dependence on them – perhaps we will be liberated and truly happy. I am grateful for my juicer and it brings me great joy, but I can live without it if it suddenly stops working. Likewise, I am proud to be vegan and how it makes me feel, but it’s not the only thing which makes me Trudi. If I stop tomorrow, for whatever reason, I shouldn’t feel shame, regret or sadness for my loss of self. The little gem I call me is indescribable and always changeable, and ultimately has the power to bring me more happiness than any juicer or personality label can ever give me!

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