Non-attachment is an idea born out of Eastern religion based on the idea life is suffering and therefore peace/Nirvana/heaven/enlightenment is non-attachment and/or a quiet mind.
While the idea itself is flawed (having a skewed view of love and desire), it can also be immensely valuable if understood correctly. If I want to learn how to catch a turtle, it helps to first learn how to catch a fish, then use the fish to catch the turtle. Otherwise, I’m stuck trying to catch a turtle with hands or a net and no bait. I think there is a lesson to be learned from non-attachment.
I heard a podcast recently that included an interview with a man who had a strange few weeks. He had a medical condition where he lost all testosterone in his body, and along with it, all his desire for anything. He found he had no ability to distinguish between something he liked and didn’t like, and had no ambitions; he was essentially a blank slate.
He would take a walk, see a rock, and say to himself, “oh, a rock.” And that’s it. Sort of the quintessential example of the Eastern religion idea of non-attachment. The funny thing was, in this state he still had a single opinion: Everything is beautiful.
Though he didn’t care that things were beautiful, he couldn’t have said if one thing was more or less beautiful than another. Even so, he was aware in a non-attached way that things are intrinsically beautiful.
I found that fascinating — that even if we lose all desire and attachment to things, we do not arrive at nothingness or total peace, but at the realization of beauty. This means even when all his opinions, desires, and personality were stripped away, the man in that interview could still observe that things are intrinsically beautiful. This is at the heart of why I appreciate Eastern philosophical thought, even though I disagree with it.
As a Christian, I know things are beautiful because they were lovingly made. After all, Genesis 1:31 says, “then God saw everything he had made, and indeed it was very good.”
So essentially, the Eastern idea of non-attachment is very similar to the truth of selflessness. But since Eastern thought views all desire as leading to suffering, Love gets treated as an attachment problem which interferes with achieving Nirvana (think Anakin being forbidden from loving Padme, since desire is a step on the path to the dark side).
My central point here is inner peace, a quiet mind, or non-attachment, though not a worthy end unto itself, will naturally lead to the very worthy end of Love. Once we step past our own desires, we will find reality is objectively beautiful and lovingly made.
When you know the goal is Love rather than Nirvana, and life is not suffering but rather goodness which has been corrupted, then the process of becoming “non-attached” shifts to the process of being completely selfless. Either way, the shared truth that’s so immensely valuable between both ideologies is this: Selfishness = Suffering (and really does lead to the dark side).
This goes hand in hand with the definition of what love is, and while a full discussion of that would be a bit too much for this article, it bears a brief inclusion.
Love is patient and long suffering not because those qualities define love, but because those qualities are how love relates to sin and brokenness. If we thought suffering and patience were intrinsic parts of love itself, then we might think pain and toil were intrinsic parts of reality. They aren’t; they are a direct and temporary result of the curse on this world.
The fruit of the spirit includes love, joy, peace, and goodness. Many of the items on that list are intrinsic qualities of love, and many are natural results of what happens when those qualities face and deal with sin and brokenness.
Knowing and being aware of that is the small but vital difference between bearing a burden and holding a tool. It’s the line between grudgingly giving and joyfully giving. Because we see, know, and understand the Love with which all objects were made, and recognize the beauty and purpose in their existence and their worth, especially Humans—the children of God.
When we have our own selfish mindset, or view love as a requirement to withhold judgment, we miss the point. We have to let go of our selfishness to be able to see the beauty in things for their own sake. And we have to be aware of what Love is so when we deal with the brokenness of this world, we do so motivated by peace, joy, and goodness, rather than obligation.
When we have these two things working together, stress goes out the window, worry and fear lose their power, and frustrations melt away. We can only start to see things the way God sees them if we let go of our own limited and selfish opinions, and start to peer intently into that darkened glass (1 Cor 13:12) to see the core of his Love behind it, rather than just the reflections in this world.
It takes a quiet mind, reflection, honest soul-searching, and openness to the Holy Spirit to get there; It’s hard work, but it’s the best work.
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