From the moment we are born, we are emotionally, mentally, and physically attached to others. Usually the first attachment is to the mother, then to the father, siblings, and extended family. Attachment progresses to other people we form close emotional bonds with friends, teachers, colleagues and of course lovers. But attachment doesn’t stop at people, we are also attached to animals, usually pets, plants, and even things.
I once heard of a lady who was so attached to her car that she instructed, in her last will, to be buried in the car upon her death. I thought this was most bizarre. But attachment is the product of emotions. We don’t really covet the object of our attachment but rather the emotional value it represents.
I was once having a conversation with a friend about the level of crime in our city. The topic of hijacking invariably came up and he told me, with fierce conviction, that they would have to kill him to take his car. I was puzzled and asked him if insurance would not be the cheaper option. He found my question to be somewhat irritating, as according to him, he couldn’t afford insurance.
As much as there are positive emotions to attachment, there are also negative ones. If you take away a child’s favourite toy, you have to deal with a very unhappy child. As humans, we tend to handle loss very poorly. If we lose an item or one is stolen or taken from us, we consider it a personal attack. As a young man, I remember being robbed by two men at knife-point.
It was no great loss, as I only had R50 in my wallet at the time. But I felt a sense of violation from the experience. As if, I had lost my worth as a person. It filled me with anger to think that I could be so easily “de-valued”.
Of course, only later on in life did I understand that what I felt was really just the bruising of my fragile ego. It is the ego that nurtures attachment. Our own self importance is what hurts us the most. Out of the ego comes fear, anger, depression and a host of other negative feelings.
So, ego and attachment are really inseparable. To get destroy the ego, one must get rid of attachment. And to get rid of attachment, one must destroy the ego. Personally, I choose the latter. I find it somewhat easier to humble myself and ignore any sense of self importance. This way, the ego is diminished to the point that it no longer exists. It is easier said than done of course, but by following certain practices one will be able to achieve this. One of the most effective methods of forgetting one’s own self importance is to perform some sort of charity. Whether it is donating money to a worthy cause or donating one’s time and energy to help others, the spiritual benefits are immense.
One should, however, guard against expecting any kind of reward, especially praise or fame, for one’s actions. When one is given any form of accolade for doing charitable work, accept humbly and appreciate the gratitude that one receives.