Attachment is the root of all suffering.

Or so said the Buddha. I’ve been thinking a lot about that these days, from both the perspective of someone who works at an addictions treatment center for youth (where unhealthy attachment abounds), and from a “life in general” perspective of a husband and father.

Often we get attached to the negative experiences that have happened in our lives, holding on to the memories of hurt, anger and sadness…not realizing that it’s the very attachment we’ve created to these negative experiences that is the cause of our current suffering. At the addictions program, we work a lot on “letting go” of attachment to a story that no longer suits our reality.

Attachment comes in all forms, from being attached to ‘stuff’ (houses, cars, vacations, etc.), to ‘ideas’ (success, happiness, freedom), to people (family, friends, loved ones).

But what about all that stuff about how great attachment is, particularly when it comes to children being attached to their parents (and vice versa)? If we take a look back at what the Buddha was talking about, he said the root of suffering, not the cause of it. Of course we attach, we’re biologically hard wired to do so after all. It’s when we remain attached to something that no longer exists (or meets our needs at the current moment), that suffering starts.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I suffered for awhile. I remained attached to a version of myself that no longer existed. I was angry. I was in denial. I was PO’d for sure. And now I consider it to be one of life’s greatest gifts. It’s provided me with a new paradigm on what it means to be healthy. It’s a daily reminder of the need to take care of myself.

Most importantly, it reminds me of my own mortality…a thought that drives my actions both as a person and a professional.

So perhaps the answer is more about being flexible with your attachments. Recognizing when what you’re attached to is causing more pain than joy, and be open to letting it go when it no longer suits your needs.

Ask yourself, “how’s that working for me now?“. Is my attachment to (thing, idea, person) causing me joy or suffering?