On the whirlpool of attachment Pt I


Kia ora e te whānau:

On our journey down the river of our life we are, from time to time, going to encounter the ripo, or whirlpool. I am sure that you have stood on a cliff or rocky outcrop, looked down into a river and observed one. If you are a kayaker or rafter, you have probably had a very close encounter with one.  There, beneath you, the current is turning in on itself, and forming a spiral that seems to go nowhere. It seems to be just marking time. As a log comes along it is drawn into the whirlpool.  At first it drifts gently around the periphery and then, bit by bit, it is drawn into the centre. As it does so, it picks up speed, going faster and faster until it becomes a blur. Suddenly it vanishes from sight, sucked down the hole in the middle. It has disappeared beneath the surface into a place we can only imagine. Common sense tells us that the river will eventually release it, and allow it to continue its journey. Or not. Perhaps it will be trapped at the bottom of this moving well for a long, if not all, time.  We can only guess what would happen if that log was us. And so, we stay away from the edge. Perhaps we shudder and walk away, thinking: there but for the race of God go I. I am OK. Nothing to worry about.

Life, however, is full of ripo, and we are going to encounter many of these in our journeys. Addictions are a form of whirlpool and very difficult to escape. Toxic and abusive relationships can be whirlpools, where we are dragged in, and find it difficult to emerge, let alone to do so unscathed. Our self-sabotage patterns are a form of whirlpool. We make the same poisonous choices again and again until we either emerge, or are dragged down to our doom.

Escaping a whirlpool is no easy thing. Sometimes it is impossible and we will remain trapped in it to the end of our days.

Modern life and our interconnectedness, which grows tighter because of the electronic world in which we live, presents us with the almost-daily opportunity to be drawn into one whirlpool or another. US Presidential elections are one such; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who seem to be working overtime these days, provide more and more opportunity to be drawn down into one whirlpool of engagement or another. There is no shortage of ways to become overwhelmed by terrible things in the world. Wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, child slavery and pandemics. We can take our pick. And they are put in front of us constantly, because bad news is good business.

So, we buy in. We sit on our mobile devices or in front of our televisions, absorbing all of this and reacting to it. We become mesmerised by and attached to it. We cease to be the radiant, beautiful creatures we have the potential to be, because we have become attached to this misery and suffering. We are all sacred individuals, wonderful manifestations of an aspect of the Divine. There is no one like us. There never has been and there never will be. We are all beautiful, and yet we allow ourselves to be told otherwise. We are all beautiful.

 I am beautiful.

You are beautiful.

He/ she is beautiful.

We are beautiful.

They are beautiful.

Imagine every one of us alive today saying this 100 times a day. Would the world not become the place it should be, for in recognising our own sacred beauty, we would see the beauty in others?

There is a way out of the whirlpool of attachment.

The first thing we must do is to understand the nature of attachment.

Attachment occurs usually quite insidiously. We are drawn to the edge of the whirlpool, attracted by something that calls us, rather like Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens, where his men are driven mad by their song and lose their own sense of self. Then, before we can recognise it, we have become addicted and drawn down under the surface. Smart phones, FaceBook and Twitter are modern sirens. Before we know it, we are spending hours in attachment to others’ pain, because it masks our own. There are others.

Attachment can be material. We become attached to our material possessions, and therein lies suffering. The Tibetan monk, Milarepa has this to say about material attachment:

…I have no desire for wealth or possessions, and so I have nothing. I do not experience the initial suffering of having to accumulate possessions, the intermediate suffering of having to guard and keep up possessions, nor the final suffering of losing the possessions…

Are you attached to your possessions? How much do you really need?

We can become attached to the suffering of others, for, subconsciously, it makes us feel good about our own lives.

We can become attached to a spiritual dogma. Religion has the power to do draw us into its own perpetual whirlpool. It can quickly become a form of spiritual attachment. We become so involved in the intricacies and rituals, as did the scribes and Pharisees, that we cannot see that we are tied up in the do’s and don’ts, and in so doing, miss the true spirit of a particular tradition.

These are but a few. The number of ways of falling into the whirlpool of attachment is legion.

The Buddha has this to say on attachment:

“See them, floundering in their sense of “mine”, like fish in the puddles of a dried-up stream — and, seeing this, live with no mine, not forming attachment to experiences.”
—The Buddha

To escape the whirlpool of attachment, you must learn to be able to stand back from yourself. You can do this by imagining yourself as separate from the you who is engaging. Watch this person who is you/not you, and observe what is happening. Now have a conversation with this other you, and ask him/her what is happening and why this is happening. Be like one of those people who plays chess against himself, switching from one side of the table to the other.

The first step is to ask yourself this question:

What am I attached to? Is it a person, a place, material possessions, an idea or a belief?

Write down the heading (there may be more than one). Then write notes around each of these attachments. Write them as a letter to yourself. By doing so, you are beginning to detach, and to become the observer of your own behaviour. And this is the key to escaping the whirlpool of attachment.

Next, try these questions:

  1. What things to I spend too much time upon? Is it FaceBook or Twitter? Is it television?
  2. Does anything in my life border on obsession? Do I dote on my children and try to control their lives for fear they will come to harm if I don’t? Is that about them, or Is. It. About. Me?
  3. Am I worried about the American/English/Turkish/XXX political system or what is happening in the Middle East? Perhaps we should be focusing on our own backyard, on our own country, and doing what we can to make that a better place.
  4. How do I feel about stepping away from my attachment? Do I feel fear? What am I afraid of? If you can answer that, then there is a way out, for you have just spotted the problem and therefore the answer is close by.

Like many people, I have followed the recent election in the United States with a morbid fascination, and especially the first weeks after the new president swung into gear. I watched a friend, a fellow Kiwi, posting daily on FaceBook, as he expressed his horror at what was unfolding. I found myself becoming concerned and irate and worried for the American people. I even watched fellow esoteric astrologers being drawn in. I was spending hours each day on FaceBook, watching the goings-on.

And then I heard Jesus’words in Matthew 7:5:

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

While I was watching what was happening abroad,children were starving my own country and homeless people were sleeping in cars in towns nearby. surely I should be removing the log from my own backyard and doing what I could to help them before  I worried about events in a distant country over which I had no control. I was becoming ensnared by yet another ripo on the river.

I longed for an app on my phone which would remove all reference to this man, however since there isn’t one, it fell to me to spot the whirlpool and float on by.

The following morning, I awoke and stepped outside my door to watch the river which flows past my door. The tide was coming in. The fish were jumping, as they always had, and they probably always would. A matuku (grey-faced heron) was stalking purposefully in the shallows, hunting breakfast, as it had the day before and the day before that. I turned around and saw the me who got up each morning, sitting there on the couch, lost in a virtual world that doesn’t really exist.

The heron had it right. It wasn’t attached to anything except the demands of feeding itself, for a heron just is. A heron just does.

It is we humans who are easily snared by ripo and drawn into becoming something we are not.

Nga mihi ki a katou katoa