“Attachment is the root of all suffering” – Buddha
We all want to be free and feel free, but what does this really look like? Most people imagine it looks like something along the lines of being your own boss, not living by the alarm clock, or leaving the ratrace. The truth is, freedom is more of a mental state than anything else, and you can be working a 9-5 job and be absolutely free. You can also be your own boss and be totally enslaved.
It all comes down to your intentions, your desires, and your level of attachment to particular outcomes. Are you resisting your heart and resisting life, or are you flowing with them both and embracing each moment? For the last year and a half, I have been my own boss. I have also been more of a slave than ever before up until recently, not because of my lifestyle, but because of my mentality.
Here are 5 attachments we need to let go of to experience true freedom in life:
1) Societies expectations
Your dad wants you to get a good education. Your mom wants you to find a nice girl or guy to marry. Your teachers want to see you land a 9-5 job. The media forces down your throat what the “ideal” life is and wants you to spend your life chasing after the “American dream”. All of these outside influences keep you trapped in a state of mind that is plagued by the constant need to impress someone or live up to expectations that have nothing to do with what YOU really want to do as a person.
Maybe you want to drop out of school and start your own business. Maybe you want to be single, and you are content without having very much money or material items. The world around you is constantly trying to make you into someone you are not by imposing their expectations on to your life. This creates a program in your psychology that keeps you constantly trying fulfill these expectations to feel like you are “successful”, when in reality you are spending your energy trying to make a mark in someone else’s consciousness to gain their approval. To be free is to live for yourself.
2) Your past
Your past doesn’t define who you are. Contrary to what people around you may tell you, you are not defined by your sins, achievements, mistakes, successes, or failures. Anything you have done in your past, whether it is good or bad, will prevent you from evolving if you are attached to it. If it is bad and you are attached to it, you are going to cause yourself depression and self-hate over something that no longer even exists. If it is good and you are attached to it, you are projecting yourself out of the present moment and into a memory-stream.
Your past is meant to act as a guide and a compass to serve you, but we are told by the world that we are the sum of our history. When we apply for a job, we are expected to provide a resume. We are also expected to provide a kind of resume to the world when we are discussing who we are as a person. When we see an old friend we haven’t seen in a while, the first thing that often comes up is “What have you been up to?”.
This translates into “What have you done or accomplished within your recent past?”, which keeps us attached to the past and reliant on it for our sense of identity and worth in the world. Whatever you have or haven’t done in your past, it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t define you. The only thing that matters is what you choose to do with this moment moving forward.
3) The need to impress others
The need to impress others ultimately comes from our egos, which are products of millions of years of evolution. It has created a spirit of competition within us that keeps us enslaved to the constant need to outshine other members of our species. The species that are fastest, strongest, and most adaptable are the ones that carry over into the next generation and reproduce, and this is the purpose the ego has served us in our past.
This is not needed in a modern society of rational human beings, but the sense of needing to compete with one another ultimately stems from an archaic part of our brains that is still wired through millions of years of evolution.
This translates into competing for “likes” with other people on Facebook, comparing cars, bank accounts, or physical fitness levels. It manifests in the need to be recognized, the instinct to compare ourselves with others, the need to make impressions on others, and so forth.
Being free from your ego is the key to being free from feeling like you have to outshine other people. Live for yourself, and be true to what you want in life. A lot of people work at jobs they hate to buy things they can’t afford to impress people they don’t even know, and this all boils down to being identified with the ego.
4) Fear of the future
There is nothing scary about the future. The future is only scary of we anticipate failure and pain, and we would only anticipate failure of pain if we lack confidence or self-esteem in the present moment. The key to overcoming fear of the future comes in two parts. First, we have to keep our mind and attention concentrated on what is happening within the present moment. Secondly, we have to overcome any feelings of disbelief we have in ourselves.
The future is nothing to fear. It is just another present moment just like this one. If we can learn how to tap into the present moment and make it as awesome as possible, our future is guaranteed to be as awesome as possible since the future is just an extension of the present moment.
5) Relationships that aren’t worth it
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Romantic partnerships, friends, family members, co-workers. Sometimes, we remain in relationships we know we don’t want to be in simply because we don’t want to hurt another person. In other words, we maintain relationships and friendships with people out of a feeling a guilt.
If you are staying in a relationship that isn’t worth it because of guilt, then you are attaching yourself to an unhealthy situation out of fear. So many people put up with unhappy marriages and relationships out of fear, forgetting that life is too short to do anything but follow your heart. Let go of fear and give yourself permission to follow your heart. Being free means being free to expressive yourself, say what you mean, and feel what you feel, even if it means it may make someone else unhappy.
You are not free in life until you are free from all attachment. You can still work hard, be ambitious, and be in relationships without being attached and dependent upon a particular outcome to rectify your existence. Just as much as we pursue money, education, and health we should pursue freedom. Am I following my heart? Am I living for myself or for my parents? Am I being true to what I feel each moment?