Zen Philosophy Reveals Why Attachment is the Source of All Suffering And What You Can Do About It

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Attachment, desire, clinging and grasping. You’ve probably heard these words spoken about negatively by Zen Masters before.  Buddha said that “the root of suffering is attachment.”

But what does attachment exactly mean?

It’s basically what we do when we hold on to things in an effort to find happiness and comfort. We don’t just cling to things that give us joy, but we also cling to something because we’re afraid to let go of them as well.

The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

Buddhism says that the only constant in the universe is change, and by desiring you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the forces of the universe, which is what causes anxiety, depression and negative emotions.

The key then to reduce our suffering to embrace the impermanence of life. Below we’re going to talk about what Buddhism means by impermanence and how you can learn to embrace change and let go of attachments.

What Anitya (Impermanence) Means According to Buddhism

The Buddha described the world as an unending flux of becoming.  He believed that everything in the world is changeable and in continuous transformation. In other words, everything exists from moment to moment and everything is moving from birth to death.

You can witness this law in day-to-day life. As each day passes, our cells are different, our thoughts develop, the temperature and air quality shifts. Everything around us is different. Always.

Nothing is permanent.

Neuroscience agrees: Everything is changing, even you

Most of us believe that our selfhood – our essential being – is always intrinsically the same. In other words, you’re the same person you were 5 years ago.

Buddhists argue that this is simply an illusion as you have a constant stream of consciousness. And recent research in neuroscience has backed up this assertion.

Evan Thompson, a professor at the University of British Columbia ,  says:

“And from a neuroscience perspective, the brain and body is constantly in flux. There’s nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”

A neuroscience paper, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences in July, says that there’s scientific evidence that “self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self specific.”

Why Embracing Impermanence Reduces Our Suffering

According to Buddhism, our suffering arises from attachment to desires. These desires can vary from material objects, sensual pleasures or even your relationships. The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

If the only constant in the universe is change, then by attaching yourself to something, you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the constant flux of the universe.

So what can you do instead?

Embrace the idea of change! By accepting the idea of impermanence, it helps us appreciate everything we are experiencing in the present moment: our relationships, mood, body, health, the weather.

We must savor the moments we enjoy because they won’t last forever. Likewise, when we’re experiencing something that’s negative, we know that it also won’t last forever.

5 Ways to Embrace the Idea of Impermanence

1) Reduce expectations

Many of us have high expectations for our family, our business, our marriage…and we expect this to remain constant and last forever. But nothing lasts forever. Of course, you can have expectations with how you want things to turn out, but you can’t attach yourself to these results.

When you set reasonable expectations, and don’t demand a particular outcome, you’re better able to react to change and develop a more healthy response to loss, disappointment and pain.

2) Acknowledge change

Cultivate the awareness that change can happen quickly and at any time. Learning to develop this mindset allows to let things happen when it unfolds instead of approaching change from a place of denial and resistance.

3) Practice acceptance

Many of us try to desperately prevent change from happening because we fear the unknown. Instead of resisting, allow change to unfold. A lot of the time, this attitude will make life easier to deal with.

For example, by refusing to accept a negative emotion like anxiety, we actually make it worse because we’re fighting against it. Circumstances will not always turn out the way you want and that’s okay. Embracing the situation can help you deal with it far more effectively.

4) Learn from experience

If you embrace change, you will start finding lessons in it. Trying to keep everything fixed means we’re not really changing and therefore we’re not really growing. Life is constant growth in many different ways. Change and different experiences can be your greatest teacher, but only if you give yourself permission to learn from it.

5) Embrace the wisdom

Not only you grow as a person when you embrace change, but more inner peace will come into your life. Instead of fighting against the principles of the universe, you’re flowing it which will bring my calmness and joy. And when life shakes you up with twists and turns, you’ll realize that changes can’t break you.

When we accept change, and learn from it, change is no longer our enemy. It becomes our teacher.

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