Attachment is the way we become victim to our craving for things. The things can be drugs, other people, food, possessions… but the idea is that we suffer when we rely on these things excessively.
In contrast, when we learn to master our attachments, then we are better able to act freely and think clearly. The reason an addict suffers, is because they cannot withdraw from repeated contact with the object of their addiction. The reason we are happy when we overcome attachments, is because we stop suffering, and become free.
We are as rich as the thing we don’t need. In other words, if poverty is a state of constantly feeling the lack of things in our life, then contentment is a state of constantly feeling that the present moment is sufficient for our needs. The more things we need, the poorer we are. The fewer things we need, the richer we are.
Non-attachment is a cause of contentment. If we do not crave anything, then a lack of things cannot hurt us, because we do not experience the need for them.
It is easy to fuse together detachment and lack of compassion. It is true, after all, that detachment frees us from care; and it is also true that compassion is a synonym for caring. It would be easy to think that detachment, therefore, means a lack of compassion.
It is sometimes better, therefore, to think of attachment as excessive caring for oneself, and of compassion as caring for others. This is a better interpretation. In this way, it becomes clearer that there is a journey from the suffering of excessive self-cherishing, to the happiness of being able to cherish others.
WHY DETACHMENT (FROM SELF-CHERISHING) MAKES US HAPPY
Why should detachment from excessive self-cherishing make us happier? One answer lies in the way we are constructed in terms of perceptions of gain and loss. When we self-cherish, we become over-attentive to the possibility of personal loss. The bodily mechanisms by which we do this include anxiety and fear. These are inherently unpleasant emotions to experience, and they have adverse effects on our general health.
In contrast, when we cherish others, we become attentive to the world around us in a much less defensive manner. Our bodies reach a state of relaxed attention which does not have the same chemical imprint as anxiety and fear. We therefore get a break from more destructive stress hormones, and achieve a more healthy chemical equilibrium associated with contentment.
When we suffer from attachment, we become excessively dependent on arranging the world so that our own perceived needs are met. The chemical and health imprint of this on our bodies is quite destructive.
In contrast, when we learn to detach from self-cherishing, and to cherish others, we release ourselves from our own neediness. Our bodies achieve a state of relaxed attentiveness, we become more content, and our bodies become more healthy.