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Updated on December 19, 2012
"Butterfly Blue" Watercolor by Rod McIver
"Butterfly Blue" Watercolor by Rod McIver | Source

What is it?

What is non-attachment and what is it NOT? The opposite of non-attachment is - of course, attachment. So the consideration is what these terms actually mean to the person and what are their effects on the person's really living life.

Why, one wonders, are we considering these things? Read on. . .

Same hub,~ updated.

Note: This hub is an update of one of my earliest hubs, first published early in March, 2010 after I joined HP in late February. It expressed my long-standing awareness of and personal regard for the subject of non-attachment, which isn't a typically basic "Western Hemisphere" viewpoint, in which 'accumulation' of possessions is not only an accepted value, but almost is considered a virtue, which is evidenced and rewarded by the obvious show of possessions.

My personal concept of detachment felt natural because I'm not a very 'clingy' person. It's not a religious viewpoint for me, but the most practical and fulfilling view for me personally.

Even so, the general following of this principle beyond my own experience has much merit which needs to be brought to my hub, as best I can.


What about attachment? Most of us consider it a part of life. We're attached to our 'stuff', our mementos, our loved ones. We're attached to our pets. We're attached to our intellctual pursuits and special interests. When it's snowing, we're attached to our snow-removal tools! When we're feeling 'icky', we're attached to our remedies - - - - and on and on. You can fill in the missing attachments. They're not good or bad in themselves, by the way.

But it's when our attachments become obsessive and take center-stage to the exclusion of other nourishing considerations that they can become crippling limitations. Let's repeat that:

It's when our attachments become obsessive and take center-stage to the exclusion of other nourishing considerations that they can become crippling limitations.

If they become exaggerated seeking and clinging to the objectives, they command so much of our mental and physical energy, not only in their acquisition, but followed by extreme hanging on to and keeping the attachments to such extent that when life's vicissitude disrupt one's expectations for incessantly HAVING them, - suddenly depression and mourning for their loss set in and take over one's peace of mind. The vicissitudes may include others' changes of heart, our own choices which backfire, accidents, even effects of weather and states of the union. Whatever disrupts one's focus on exaggerated attachments becomes the enemy of one's peace and joy, and further futilely focuses life-energy on those or other substitute attachments. A vicious circle of desire and disappointment develops -- without realizing simple facts and truths involved.

In such a state, the mind never rests - - and never finds fulfillment, - as long as the grasping-for something rules one's life. One knows it's happening though may not acknowledge it.


Defining the problem - looking at the solution

Why is this so? Why do it? Is it conditioning?

Well, attachment in this sense and at this level is a seriously wrong mental perception of reality. It may be focused on an object or a person or some other obsessive objective whic we imbue with unrealistic expectations which don't exist here or elsewhere, therefore can't and won't be fulfilled; resulting in disappointment, discouragement, depression, - or even seeking any kind of phony escape, including futile retaliation against the perceived interferences.

Unfortunately, this misperception, ergo, mistake, haunts our society. Where does it end?

Defining the problem:

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.”

Steve Maraboli

Is there a solution or remedy? If so, what would it be?

When a thing becomes indispensable it's time to give it up.”

Marty Rubin

Wow! So why don't we, when we're miserable because of attachment to it? Good question, one which many a psychologist and abuse-counselor would love to clarify, surely!

Even thoughts can become debilitating exaggerated attachments

We can become addicted to and obsessed by thoughts and concepts as well as things and people. It's not to WHAT we become attached, but how and to the extent of our attachment. The line is that there's a healthy BALANCE; our challenge is to self-examine and learn to discern the difference within our own attitudes, to be aware of where healthy leaves off and pathetic/pathological begins!

A first principle is to recognize the transience of our own awareness, which is natural. Those concepts WORTH keeping stay because they're real but not attachments. Those we're fiercely determined to hang onto, to possess, in spite of common sense and inner balance are those which often become obsessively unhealthy pursuits.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”

Byron Katie

So - we need to calmly and routinely 'examine our verities to see if they still are'. (That's one of my own quotes. ;-) Often, they expose their own fallibility if we're alert and willing to see. Most of us have experienced it in action, but we've not all 'gotten the message' for life-practice. So the lesson may need repeating. . . . so we can get it while we're still here, in the 'classroom', so to speak:

Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”

Arthur Schopenhauer


Non-attachment is easily misunderstood, especially in our society. It's often equated with passivity or some 'otherworldly', out-of-touch monastic life-style, which is viewed as an unacceptable dedication to idealistic, ritualistic discipline and relinquishment of the best things in life.

Nothing is more opposite. In fact if it were that strict and rigid, it would illustrate exaggerated ATTACHMENT itself!

I hope its real meaning and application will be clarified. I don't represent myself as its messenger. If one simply honestly examines what is controlling one's life, with the results, and sees beyond preconceptions, it's not difficult to see it for oneself.

Read on. . . .

Letting go

Detachment, or non-attachment, a state of being in which a person overcomes attachment to the frantic desire for and grasping things, people or concepts, so as to be able to aspire to heightened awareness and perspective of what LIFE is.

It's similar to peeling off the dead, dry outer layers, as with an onion, and getting to the inner bud of crisp, moist reality and life.

I seldom quote scripture, but it embodies much practical, applicable wisdom. This is one which has been a beacon to me for many years. However one may 'see' god, guidance or best goodness, it defines releasing non-attachment to futile things and finding what is workable and superior:

"Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

___Romans 12:2

Detachment means letting go: nonattachment means simply letting be.

___Stephen Levine

Loving and being separate or non-attached

  • Holding love lightly and openly allows it to breathe, grow deeply and LIVE abundantly.
  • Clutching love, trying to possess it forces it to seep out between the fingers like a handful of sand being squeezed.

Kahlil Gibran said it well in The Prophet, in 'On Marriage':

. ."Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not to each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

Nocturno - Chopin


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    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      3 years ago from TEXAS

      Somehow, poetryman6969, I can believe you would do that, though I'm not thoroughly convinced about the purity part. Good luck getting the job!

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      3 years ago

      I like the position of certain cult leaders that tail their followers you people must be detached from your wives, daughters, possessions and money whilst I the pure one will attach myself to those same wives, daughters, possessions and money because I am already pure! I want that job!

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      6 years ago from TEXAS

      Of course my approach is simplistic by its very uncomplicated origins; I'm simply attuned to the esoteric. But these are mainly my personal senses of the subject, coupled with some reading about Zen and Hindu views on my own.

      Detachment is not intrinsic to the religion with which I grew up - quite the opposite, as I'm sure you realize. 'Accumulating' throughout one's lifetime to leave to one's progeny is almost a revered premise, as natural and embedded as the air and landmarks of our lives. Even so, I've just never felt much akin to that, though I've benefitted from it.

      But I've just never wanted my 'treasure' to dwell in things (or too much in dependence on relationships), but, rather in more spiritual values and freedom, which I learned from direct teachings of Jesus rather than their usual interpretations. His own example could not have been more detached.

      The nature of life is change and uncertainty, not in grasp and control. How foolish to attach to that which is bound to change, variagate, & metamorph.

      Anyway - what seems practical about it is that one is not bound to or dominated by attachments to things if one doesn't look to them for security and value. The key is in one's own feelings about and dependance on them. Like many of our experiences, most go on in our own heads and hearts, not in externals.

      So perhaps my sense of it is pretty similar to what you just explained.

      Thank you for your reading of my interview and visit to my hub here, Vinaya.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      I loved your simplistic approach on the esoteric topic. According to Buddhist and Hindu worldview, we will be able to enjoy life and become happy only when I are detached from the world.

      PS: Couple of minutes ago, I read your interview. There is so much to learn from you.


    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      6 years ago from TEXAS

      Audrey!! Thank you, but - oh my! This is spooky.

      The Courage To Be" by Paul Tillich entered my life in about 1965 and began to change it! The title reached out from a friend's bookcase and grabbed me. It was so what I needed. I asked to borrow it and read it. Now I scarcely recall what specifically exactly went to work in me. But it was like a leaven in a batch of dough and led to more questing for the messages it introduced.

      Now you've given me a specific which I embrace so totally, that to be alive, there must be change. Call it ambiguity or insecurity (as Alan Watts called it), if it doesn't change and produce the show of facets, it just isn't LIFE. Life is made up of those changes. It's why I reject perfection as a goal. If it's perfect, it needs nothing, quests for nothing, - is static, the opposite of LIVING.

      Thank YOU for that reminder, dear lady, as well as for understanding. It seems so simple, almost elementary; but is not an easy concept to explain to those who don't see it. So many entanglements in our culture deny or sidestep it;-some even see it as outright dangerous to our way of life!

      Again, it seems simpler and safer simply to let it permeate my poetry, where it is delivered anonymously, - but with clarity for those who see it and innocuously for those who don't.

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      6 years ago from TEXAS

      Oh, Theresa, you brought me back to read this very early of my hubs, which truly boldly expresses so much of what lies within me and propels me. Thank you.

      These aren't ideas and feelings about which one can easily or casually discourse, though they may be the foundation of much one thinks and feels! But how quickly one discovers how odd they seem to most folks! It's probably why my poetry can 'get by with' saying some of the same things without raising too many eyebrows! But then, my poetry was born and grew as a clever way to slip in things I had to express without being even slightly detected where they would be dangerous! haha.

      I so appreciate your comments and the thoughts you highlight as being special to you. Where were you then? ;-)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Your post reminds me of a book that was given to be during my psychotherapist training--the book is entitled The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich--"Life remains ambiguous as long as there is life." Learning to embrace that ambiguity and to be fully present in it and accept what it has to offer--for me, this is the task in life, in therapy, in my poetry--thank you for an excellent essay on being alive!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Nellieanna - What a find! What a wonderful essay. How shall I describe my reaction after having read your beautiful essay? It is like having just completed a very satisfying therapy session with someone who is a both a philosopher and a poet, and also a very good friend. :)

      I share your appreciation for Kahlil Gibran. How nice to see him quoted in a hub. We certainly do struggle with non-attachment in the west. Eastern thought and philosophy is healthier.

      I found so many lines that spoke to me, eloquently, but I have restricted myself to three quotes, lifted from your essay. Each is a gem. Thank you for this essay. Sharing. Theresa

      "In reality, most everything in Nature owes its being to, exists within and obviously thrives on fluidity, changing conditions and necessitates harmonious co-existence of seeming opposites as it progresses."

      "Individuality and sociability are mutually complementary and coexistent."

      "Being fully ALIVE is synonymous with being in process, non-static, risking and dealing with inevitable frictions of movement and growth without becoming afraid or discouraged!"

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      Nikki - dear heart - I've BTDT - more than once, but always found it wanting in the end. One can't just DECIDE to not be attached, though. It requires a perspective adjustment on one's own part. There's nothing to be done about someone else's. If anything, trying to change it creates a chasm of impressive depth and width which in turn blocks one's own ability-to-respond, progress and self-actualization. In other words it makes one less fit for self or others!

      If you'd like to peruse the subject, I can recommend "The Wisdom Of Insecurity" by Alan Watts. It's not a self-help or a relatonship advice book, but it comes from an understanding of the fact that everything about LIFE is non-static, moving, growing, changing - unstoppable. Attempting to fix & fasten it chokes the life out of it. Plus it drives it away.

      Another inspiration is a story in a little book by Anne Morrow Lindberg, "Gift From The Sea" in which she talks to her daughter as they're strolling a beach. I related it in one of my personal webpages. Hold on - and I'll get the link for you.

      Here it is - this little story is about halfway down the page:

      This page is the middle one in a 3-page series , "Ah, Love". Links to the previous and next pages are included at the bottom.

      Thanks for visiting today - and hope you'll return often. I will certainly visit your lovely hubs and I value the honesty and beauty with which you describe your feelings and your quest for understanding!

    • Nikkij504gurl profile image

      Nikki Wicked 

      8 years ago from Louisiana

      I myself am trying to be non-attached. but i already have some sense of attachment to a very non-attached guy.

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      Thank you so much, FP, both for the compliments on my writing and my website. Actually I was working on several pages in the past several hours, particularly the audio on my Attic pages. In addition, I updated the birthday page for Aries coming up & then updated the Directory to include the changes. Possibly some of that had an affect on what you were viewing. But I appreciate feedback on things that are sluggish or troublesome.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      8 years ago

      Nellieanna I have just visited your website and what a delight it is! Looking forward to spending more time there! I think my net connection is slow at the moment so I am unable to hear any audio. :)

      Thank you for your response to my comment - it also reveals a lot about you! You have a way with words, and you obviously enjoy the process of writing. Looking forward to reading more from you! :)

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      De Greek - I meant to reply sooner but had to wait for the reply above to CMHypno to clear and meantime I fell asleep, not being fully functional. I think I've fought off "the bug" now, thanks to my favorite remedy for everything, Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold. I'm not viral now, at least. Must be getting out the door soon, which I'm not too eager to do - but am out of fruits which sustain me and the weather forecast for tomorrow is all amiss! Today is the last day of winter and it's spring-like and tomorrow is the first day of spring and it's to be winter-like, with chill-factors in the 20s (F)& snow flurries. Can you believe it? Well, anyway - that's my apology. I didn't intend to neglect your awesome response.

      You're too kind but I appreciate the recognition. I have a decent mind, but if compared to brilliance, I'm a wee flickering candle flame. But I'm OK with that. I have desire only to be all I am and can be. No comparisons apply.

      Whatever writing power I may have has no other purpose but to try to express what I find to be expressed, hopefully with as much clarity and accuracy as I can convey to do so. It's a challenge. Some of the things which I find to be expressed aren't so easy because of their own networks on which they're formed or which expand from them. In my mind they're concise but in words they seem complicated. It's a curse of having the kind of mind I have, I suppose - to be able to think with clarity of concepts higher and broader and deeper than I am able to express well with the same or better clarity. But from time to time, I'm silly enough to try anyway. Sometimes I regret I'm not more of a mathemetician or physicist so I could present them in nice neat formulas - which still would go over many heads but would seem to be sensible even to them. Words are so tricky! And once they're put out there - they have no place to hide. So it's good to have them as clear as possible, and that involves the expertise on both sides - the writer and the reader. Very risky business, writing. But in my case, the advantage has been that few people bother probing enough to expose my limitations other than my verbosity. haha. Once in a blue moon, someone with your perception happens to read and recognize.

      Anyway - I'd be happy to help untangle any of the muddle you're running across. Thank you for scratching deeper. It felt good. :)

      And, of course, I look forward with relish to your response TO the hub if and when you are ready to submit one. (*(*(DeGreek)*)*)

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      CMHypno. Yes, it does sound simple and it is logical. And yes it's not easy but it is simple, as many valuable things are. I've no agenda so I really can't offer any selling points. There's no procedure, although I'm aware that some philosophies have outlined steps or rigors for finding or acheiving it. But to me, that seems the opposite direction to look because by its very nature, it's not anything one acquires or assumes or takes on or coaxes or sets sites on. It isn't out "there" someplace. I'd all inside just waiting for signals to emerge, not some kind of giving up of the good things. It enhances them. Perhaps it's best to liken it to the old illustration of peeling off the outside layers which cover it like an onion or chopping away the superfluous stone to create a statue of David, which the sculpter saw was in the stone all the time. In this case, it's allowing all that is not-oneself to fall away & reveal what is really inside oneself all along. Even that is just a natural byproduct of one's life-assignment, self-actualization of what is authentic about oneself so it can be used effectively while here. No one else can - or would do it! :)

    • CMHypno profile image


      8 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Beautiful Hub on non-attachment Nellieanna. It always sounds so simple and logical when you read about it, but is so hard to achieve in real life. But of course we are educated from a young age to look for material security and certainty when we grow up, not realising that this could be actually what is stultifying us and stifling our growth and creativity. Fear of change and loss is probably what keeps millions in 9-5 jobs that they hate. So I agree with you, Nellieanna, we need to learn to let go and dance lightly on the changing winds of life and then we might truly have something to give back to others.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      8 years ago from UK

      • I have just asked my wife the question: How is it possible to have a mind like this?

      • In truth, it would take me several readings to be able to understand fully what you are really saying.

      • It would take me weeks, if not months, to be able to fully respond to this and even then I shall probably embarrass myself with some inane sophism to cover my shortages, when compared with you.

      • You are far more literate, lucid, fluent, complex and diverse than any one I have read on this site and, to avoid going overboard, I shall have to carefully consider whether everything else I have read to date could possibly supersede or at least be at par.

      • I cannot answer now. I am afraid to TRY to answer now. You are by far more fluent than I and I shall have to re-read everything again several times to be able to take a position on things you have said. So please forgive me if I shall take my time over this

      Kiss you

    • Nellieanna profile imageAUTHOR

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      hehe, FP. But truthfully, I'm making myself think more deeply to strengthen & clarify my own thinking. I'm not sure it's possible to MAKE anyone else think, or at least it's highly unlikely their thinking will be as one may have intended! ;)

      Frequently when I write, I just file it away because it's done its job of helping crystalize some fuzzy thinking or helping free up & expand some dogmatic thinking in myself. It may just discover there's no revision needed. But it serves a purpose and it's one which writing has served for me most of my life.

      But, yes,it is gratifying if and when any of it touches a chord in others.

      Most things I've written over a long lifetime have been unshared, though. At age 12, up in the apricot tree gazing at the vastness of the night sky, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to become an astronomer, a philosopher or a femme fatale. (that last one is a whole other tale! Blame my big sister's Ilka Chase books for it!)

      I wrote poetry from an early age, but it was during a period of extreme stress that I wrote profusely, never with a thought of sharing it. It was my sanctuary, where I could go and find myself if the stress had become enough to muddle it.These weren't pitty-party, poor-me statements but they seemed to find within me & express my own greater resources of strength and perception beyond what I could otherwise pinpoint, much less apply, claim or vocalize. Plus in the form of poetry, they provided a relatively safe place to BE and to BE my way.

      As the stress situation came to a head & exploded, I found that I'd developed the serenity & ability needed to endure it without many of the sad, bitter side-effects people seem to fall heir to, going through similar situations.

      When I read your statement that you've always been a detached sort of person, my sense was that you'd found and grown your strength all along, perhaps from the conditioning of your life and your personal adjustments of the dials on your own dashboard! It's to be applauded! Certainly being a bit dogmatic, as well as more flexible, are both valid traits needed to steer one through life. They're facets of being whole and who one is. Perhaps some of us had a bigger challenge in finding the courage to be dogmatic where we were and flexible where we were. Once resolved, it's seldom a problem thereafter! :)

      I adore Gibran's work. Discovered it in my early teens. What a wonderful addition to your wedding ceremony! I've several pages on my website devoted so several chapters of The Prophet, in which they're quoted in full and I am also narrating them. The one On Marriage is:

      To hear the audio, of course, have your sound turned on and adjusted. My voice is not terribly robust.

      I think that the principle of detachment is very akin to non-attachment, FP. I avoided using it as the subject, though, because its definition is more generally known & and its practice is more specifically defined, perhaps, so to me it seems a bit more of a closed circuit than what I wanted to explore. Perhaps my concept of it is because it hasn't been part of my upbringing, though I have read much about it and about philosophies associated with it and they've been absorbed into my perspecitives, I'm sure. Also many secular philosophies emphasize standards which use some of the same principles. It seems to me that most of the great teachers have included some form of being whole or self-realized or self-actualized within oneself as the ideal, not being dependent on others for one's self-awareness and courage. or on one's circumstances to sustain one through challenges and steps of living. That was what I wanted to bring out here. It's certainly not an original idea, though when one makes it one's own, it becomes a part of one's self and is surely modified to fit! haha! Thanks so much for the good comments and for letting me see more of your personality!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for those wonderful comments, Cheryl. They further expand the need to trust oneself and find one's own resources. It's gratifying to realize one has truly touched a chord or a melody in another with one's words.

      Oneself is always present as well as fully aware of one's network of needs and factors. In a way - one should be one's own best friend and confidante. My poetry at its most prolific actually was mine, where I could retrace me in a situation in which my freedom o be was at risk.

      But whatever the conditions, others, even the most empathetic, can only perceive limited amount and depth of all that one IS and all that applies to a situation one is in, plus their perceptions are always filtered through their own self-awareness which may or may not fully apply in one's situation. But what is so wonderful when others want and offer to help, or just to listen, is that they show they care enough to. Of course, also they usually bring to light new ideas which one may be able to fit into one's own situation.

      But the value of their caring stands alone is like balm. And if it becomes a mutual exchange of caring and sharing, it adds precious value. But it should not create mutual or one-way dependency. It is more like the appetizer before a meal or the dessert at the end. One must supply the entre and the balance to the main course from one's own resources if it is to fit and become part of one's personal arsenal of answers and solutions.

      Years ago when visiting some friends, I happened to be sitting by the bookshelf (like a magnet to me!). I spotted a book whose title just grabbed me and I had to read the book, so I asked to borrow it. The book was The Courage To Be by Paul Tillich. Now I really know little about the author's entire agenda, but that book was one of the turning points for me. To BE who one really IS with courage and confidence is a magnificent plateau to reach - at any age. My journey continued and there have been many other mentors along the way. I had a way to go! One finds direction from mentors, then one must weave it into one's own fabric.

    • _cheryl_ profile image


      8 years ago from California

      I love your writing Nellieanna! Very thought provoking. I completely agree especially when you mention, "one's own peace is one's own responsibility." This is a very well illustrated point of view. It's very true how we need to learn of the peace that is found within ourselves, relying on others for fulfillment only slowly eats away at our true individual potential of strength found within. There's a certain raw truth to be found of yourself when you find the courage to trust yourself and what you know rather than determine your efforts on others that you've become attached to mentally or physically. Sometimes the comfort found in our attachments in life mask the ability we have to grow and push ourselves beyond our perceived limits. Your poem is simply beautiful! And I loved the quote by Khalil Gibran....Thank you for sharing all of this. =)

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      8 years ago

      You do like to make us think, don't you Nellieanna? :)

      I've always been a detached sort of person - is that the same as non-attachment, I wonder? Perhaps it isn't - non-attachment has a much wider perspective I think. In the East we are a lot more open to alternatives of every sort...but while we are less rigid about so many things, equally there are many of us who tend to be dogmatic in our own way. Again it's all about conditioning, isn't it?

      An aside...that quote from Gibran was part of a reading at my wedding. :)


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