The Burden of Attachment

All attachment leads to suffering

Words by Joshua Fields Millburn

A thoughtful listener of The Minimalists Podcast texted me last week with the following good-faith disagreement, which is followed by my response (edited slightly for clarity):

Joshua, I disagree with your belief that attachment is synonymous with yearning. I agree with the Buddhist maxim that the root of suffering is desire, but I associate attachment much more closely with commitment than clinging, which I would argue are not the same thing, at least insofar as relationships with living things are concerned. A fine distinction perhaps, but there might be something peerless on the other side of a commitment that transcends questions of its mere value.

Fundamentally, it’s all the same thing. No matter what we call it, “attachment” or “clinging” or “commitment”—not to mention “yearning” or “craving” or, yes, even “desire”—it all leads to the same place: suffering. This is true even when we dress up these abstractions with fancy concepts. A suffering man outfitted in a tuxedo is still suffering.

Now, before you react hastily to this, it may help to understand something: this is not my “opinion” or “belief,” and I don’t hope to convince you of anything. It’s merely the truth: attachment leads to suffering, regardless of your or my beliefs. This is not a “bad” thing. And I’m certainly not suggesting that one should condemn or avoid attachment. Understanding it is enough.

You know what will help? Pause for a moment and pay attention to what appears in your viscera, not the decorous dance of the intellect. We can locate a deeper understanding if we move past the words and their limiting definitions. Scrutinizing the words is like seeing a delicious piece of avocado toast on a menu, and then eating the menu instead of enjoying the food.

Said another way: when we intellectualize a flower, it loses some of its beauty. Doesn’t the same apply to life, love, and experience itself? So, let’s drop the abstruse concepts—attachment, clinging, etc.—and instead focus on the essence. If we let go of whatever is weighing us down, we can finally enjoy the unencumbered experience of our things—and our loved ones—without the burden of attachment.

Joshua Fields Millburn

Joshua Fields Millburn is a bestselling author, writing instructor, and international speaker. Best known as one half of The Minimalists, he is the author of four books, including a critically acclaimed memoir, Everything That Remains. He has been featured in Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Vancouver Sun, Village Voice, LA Weekly, and many other outlets. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1981, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California.


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