We’re very sensitive to negative stimulus. Pain is a great teacher, precisely because we’re wired to avoid a loss more strongly than we are to pursue a gain.
It’s a hangover from our evolutionary development when the preservation of resources was more closely correlated with our survival.
If we lost our food, we starved to death.
(it’s amazing how everything becomes simpler when we look at through the lens of staving or not)
But the only reason this wiring works, is that we have an enormous capacity attach ourselves to whatever we encounter. Food, people, money, possessions & ideas.
Once a meal is put in front of us, it becomes our meal.
Once we exchange our money” for that car, it becomes our car.
In many ways this attachment underpins a large part of how we operate as both individuals and society within a commercial environment.
And perhaps it’s because this attachment forms a key part of our personal “operating system” that we don’t spot when it starts to become very unhelpful.
We become attached to things we don’t own, to outcomes outside of our control, to circumstances which are bound to change.
And when our attachment is violated, we suffer.
We become frustrated when we don’t get what we want.
We become angry when we break something precious to us.
We become sad and despondent when a pleasant situation begins to sour.
The Buddhists are acutely aware of the power of attachment and the role that it plays in our suffering.
It’s why they meditate on impermanence and change. They understand that loosening the grip that attachment has on their thoughts and behaviour, undermines its ability to create suffering.
Less attachment = less suffering.
And since we’re able to take control of our attachment, we’re largely responsive for the extend to which we experience suffering.
And while it’s beyond the scope of this post to try and cram 2500 thousand years of contemplative tradition into 350 words, there is a simple place to start – and that’s to look.
We can look for attachment in our everyday life and be mindful of the influence it has on our thoughts and behaviour. We can ask whether or not the attachment help our lives, and we can try to be more skilful with our actions.
We can try to be less attached and as a result, less prone to suffering.