Original Link : https://medium.com/the-coffeelicious/practicing-b864f4d55fbf

I couldn’t resist the silly cartoon!

When it comes to learning “non-attachment”, there seems to be a clear distinction between “attachment to things” and “attachment to people”.

While most of us can easily learn how to let go of a sand castle or other material posessions, it seems much harder to practice non-attachment in our relationships — especially romantic ones.

A few days ago, a friend of mine emailed me some pertinent questions on this very topic:

In theory it makes sense, non-attachment frees you from the roller-coaster emotions and distractions that attachments and aversions bring (at least that’s my interpretation). What I struggle with is — what is the difference between non-attachment and being indifferent?

Sure, I could use to not be attached to facebook, or email, or my alarm clock, or my desire to look good in a pair of skinny jeans, or my anger at the crowded NYC subways. But how do relationships fit in here?

I can’t comprehend how one can have a loving relationship with someone and yet feel not attached to them. If my understanding of non-attachment is correct, it would be to look at something and feel nothing. No attraction, no aversion.

But how can you feel love then? And how can you be a good lover, or friend, or family-member, if you feel no attachment to the people in your life? What is the difference?

Great points and awesome questions. Now let’s break them down, one at a time.

The difference between non-attachment and indifference.

These two words are not synonyms. Let’s say I love apples and oranges equally (or dislike them equally) and have a basket full of them sitting right in front of me.

Being “indifferent” means I can close my eyes and reach for a fruit in the basket — without caring one iota about whether I grab an orange or an apple.

Or, picture yourself walking down a busy NYC street, while thousands of people pass you by. You are completely indifferent to the strangers and don’t care at all who walks by.

Unless of course you’re me and you see Robin Williams (he is so missed) standing on a street corner! At that point, you dash over and strike up a conversation about one of his movies you just saw…but cannot name.

He laughs and you are left embarrassed. This happened. True story.

My embarrasing conversation with Robin Williams illustrates the first “step” toward creating an attachment:

I exhibited a “preference”.

Of the thousands of people on that busy NYC street, I identified and rushed over to the famous actor.

Some teachers — especially in the Buddhist tradition — would say that a preference is already an attachment. I honestly don’t go that far.

From my experience, one can live in a non-attached way while still naturally exhibiting preferences. The trick is whether you can easily let go of that preference once it’s gone.

This brings us to non-attachment.

I like to use the image of an “open hand” to illustrate this.

Picture yourself standing in a beautiful field filled with butterflies. Let each colorful butterfly represent someone or something in your life. One can be your spouse, another your job or all your money, etc. Now, start walking through the field while gently holding your hand open.

At some point, a butterfly will bless you and land on that open hand. Perhaps multiple butterflies will land at the same time! Yay! You look down at your hand and marvel at the beauty of these creatures but you consciously decide not to close your grip.

That is essentially what non-attachment means:

Living life with your hand held open.

Now, I know I have preferences. My favorite butterfly in the whole world is the Blue Morpho from Costa Rica. If one of these creatures were to land on my hand, I would scream with joy!

I would also be tempted to close my grip, just so I can experience the beauty of the Morpho a little longer.

But in the end, I would consciously choose to keep my hand open — even when a strong preference lands on it.

What this means in the real world is that I can love someone deeply (a clear “preference”) yet still have the courage to keep my hand open.

Ok, so conceptually this seems pretty clear. Now to the nitty-gritty.

Applying the lessons of non-attachment to relationships.

This brings us back to my friend’s question:

“… how can you be a good lover, or friend, or family-member, if you feel no attachment to the people in your life?”

The truth here is quite liberating:

When you learn how to hold your hand gently open, you will be able to love with an intensity that someone who closes their grip cannot fathom.

In fact, the only way to genuinely love is to keep your hand open.

When you keep your hand open you love with intensity because you know your favorite butterfly may land for only a second or a minute.

And knowing this directs your attention to the present moment — where you appreciate every single second of your interaction with the beautiful creature.

The same applies to our lovers. They may only be in our lives for a second or a minute. This may be uncomfortable for many of us to acknowledge but it is the truth.

We do not know what the next minute in our lives will bring. And someone who practices non-attachment will live this truth very deeply. So deeply that they will cherish every second of interection they have with their lover.

The same cannot be said of someone who closes their grip (aka lives attached).

A closed grip means you are terrified of change or loss.

And when we live with fear, we cling. We demand. We expect. We impose.

In essence, we end up molding ourselves or our loved ones just so they don’t leave us. And sadly, that means we never actually get to know them.

But there’s more. If a Morpho were to land on my hand and I closed my grip…I would destroy her.

Even if my grip were gentle, the butterfly would still be damaged in some way and most importantly:

She would lose the freedom to be who she is.

When it comes to romantic relationships, living without attachment means we do not demand anything from our loved ones. We do not impose our views of life on them. We do not mold them to fit into our perceived sense of happiness.

Living without attachment means we do not put our butterflies in a cage and expect them to be happy there.

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