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How do You Love Without Attachment?

In Buddhism, we learn that attachment or craving is the cause of suffering in our lives. Sometimes these cravings are conscious, some are unconscious.

In the second noble truth, the Buddha tells us,

Suffering is co-arisen with clinging.

This means, the minute we begin to cling to something, we also begin to suffer. In order to extinguish our suffering, we must stop clinging to things in this world.

According to Tricycle, there are four different types of clinging that we have to let go of in order to reach enlightenment and ease our suffering:

  • Sensuality-clinging: any passion and desire to find pleasure in fantasizing and planning sensual pleasures.

  • View-clinging: passion and desire to develop views for how the world is structured and how it works.

  • Habit-and-practice-clinging: passion and desire for ideas that tell you how you should act in the world.

  • Doctrine-of-self-clinging: passion and desire for ways of defining who or what you are.

One of the most difficult forms of clinging to release is self-clinging, and that is where the Buddha's teachings mainly focus. However, since we expend so much of attention on our relationships, and invest our energy on those we love, learning how to love without attachment is also important.

We have a tendency to hold onto those we love very tightly, because we are afraid of losing them. This is true of our partners, families, children and friends. The more tightly we cling to them, the more we cause ourselves to suffer.

According to Indiv Yoga,

We can love people and things, but we should not allow them to define us, or pin all of our happiness, peace, strength or sense of self on that love. We can have people we love in our lives and have possessions, but not attach ourselves so tightly to them as if we own them. Love without attachment means being aware that our possessions can break, get stolen or change, and that sadly people can leave or die. This is an important concept in Yogic and Buddhist philosophy called impermanence.

Learning to love without attachment is something that we all can strive for, however imperfectly we may begin. We have been taught all our lives the importance of caring for others, and we may fear that our love will be less without an attachment.

However, the reverse of this is actually true. Love without attachment is also love without expectations. And many times it is our expectations about the way a relationship is 'supposed' to be that are the cause of our unhappiness or the unhappiness of people in our lives. When we love without attachment, we allow people to go their own way, even if it doesn't fit with what we want.

Oftentimes, when we love other people and we do things for them, it is because we want something from them in return. We may want kindness, recognition, or to be loved in return. In either case, we are creating a clinging when we love this way.

To love without attachment or clinging, we have to love without expecting anything in return. This is a true sense of compassion, which is the highest form of love.

According to Tiny Buddha,

Non-attachment in relationships is not indifference or apathy to another person. It’s an absence of fear. Fear and clinginess comes from a sense of impending loss.

We cling to things because we are afraid to lose them. Often with love and relationships, we fear that the other person will leave, or will stop loving us. Once we accept that all things are impermanent, we accept that this loss is inevitable. Even if someone loves you for all your life - or theirs - inevitably death will separate you.

As we come to accept this reality, we can learn to stop clinging for dear life to a love that is bound to come to an end. Accepting that all things must end means accepting that every relationship, no matter how important to us, will end as well.

“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the essence of love within Buddhism. We can learn to love without clinging to another person. We can love them without placing unrealistic expectations on that love. When we allow another person to be free, we allow them to come or go from us as they please.

The truth is, no matter how much we cling, someone may end up leaving anyway. Our clinging has not stopped them from going. It has only caused us undue suffering in the process.

When we focus on holding onto another person, we aren't fully enjoying the time that we are spending with them in the present either. In order to enjoy the present moment with our loved ones, we not only need to release our craving, we also need to be more grounded in the present moment through mindfulness.

The more mindfully present we are in the time we spend with our loved ones, the more we can enjoy the richness of each moment we spend with them. This way, we can build beautiful memories together in this moment, instead of worrying about what the future may hold.

Everything is transient, and by acknowledging this within our relationships, we allow ourselves to experience our relationships more fully, and we can be happier and more fulfilled as well.

We can also find help through deeper realization of the Self.

Eckhart Tolle says,

“You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”

But that is only half the truth. You are everything, so you can never truly lose anything.

The people you love are a part of you, because we are all parts of the larger Self, the All. We are all one. Recognizing this truth, and acting on it, can help set us free of the fear of loss.

Letting go of this fear that controls our minds can allow us to find peace, and to realize that even as they seem to come to an end, all of our relationships are really everlasting.

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