One of Gautama Buddha's great contributions to understanding the human condition was his teaching about attachment.  Simply put, the teaching is that since all suffering springs from attachment, reducing your attachment to the world (or detaching yourself from it) will reduce your suffering.

In order to understand what this means, we must understand what is meant by "suffering", "attachment" and "the world".

According to Buddhist teachings, attachment springs from our separation from the world.  This separation prompts us to cling to the world to its people, ideas and stuff as a way of warding off the anxiety of that separation.  Unfortunately, since everything in the world is impermanent, attaching to it doesn't help.  In fact, clinging to impermanent aspects of the world increases our suffering rather than alleviating it.  And it's not just attaching to things we like about the world that does this, either.  Even an aversion to some aspect of the world for example the dislike of a person, place or idea is an attachment, since the aversion itself binds us to the thing we dislike.

When we detach from the world, we free ourselves to heal that separation, as the boundary between inside and outside is no longer being reinforced by our attachments across it.  As the separation is healed, the suffering it causes is likewise diminished.

Now you might be asking yourself, "Before, he was talking about connecting as a good thing.  Now he's saying that detaching is a good thing.  What gives?"  The key to resolving this apparent paradox lies in understanding a subtle distinction.  Attachment is not the same as connection.  In fact, attachment is pretty much the opposite of connection.  Attachment is our response to dualistic separation, and reinforces that separation.  When we detach, we reduce the separation, and therefore increase our level of connection.  If separation causes suffering that is relieved by connection, then by detaching (and thereby increasing our level of connection with the world) we can reduce our suffering.

Here's an example.  When I am detached from the outcome of an election, I am more able to accept the outcome (no matter who wins) as well as the individual supporters of any of the political parties involved.  That acceptance increases my level of connection.  It doesn't mean that I will have no opinion about the election or the parties involved.  As a social human being, I could hardly help but have opinions.  However, if I recognize that even election outcomes belong to the world of impermanence, I will be less attached to any particular outcome, and thus will suffer less regardless of who wins or loses.

The essential beginning of any journey from attachment to connection is to discard the perceptual filters and behavioural programs that were implanted at a very young age.  As long as those remain in place, we respond to the world as though it was an extension of our inner state.  In other words we remain attached to it.  The journey to detachment is exactly the same as the journey to trust, love and connection.

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