Attachment and the Druid

It finally dawned on me that part of what bothers me with non-attachment/mindfulness thinking is how simple a narrative it gives us about our own feelings and needs. By avoiding attachment to our own feelings we avoid creating drama, we live more peacefully and we’re able to be more compassionate. This is the description of mindfulness given by many websites, and while it might not be the only understanding out there, it’s clearly one a lot of people are working with.

There’s an assumption that our first response is ego-led, in the sense of being driven by our fragility and self importance. If our first emotional impulse was towards care, compassion, patience, generosity or motivated by deep love, there would be no need to retrain ourselves. Certainly, some people’s experience of growing up and living will have encouraged them towards less benevolent impulses, but I think most people are basically ok and well meaning, and that the first feeling is not necessarily the worst feeling.

Are we better people if we don’t get too attached to our own feelings? We may be calmer people, but is calmer actually better? Is it better for all of us? The question is, what do your emotions do in your life? If your own emotional responses lead you to act in ways you don’t like, clearly you need to make changes. If you mostly suffer as a consequence of how you feel, then again you might want to change things. But what if your emotional life feels like something rich and blessed in the first place? What if you bubble up with love and joy, what if you see your grief as a measure of your love and experience anger protectively and in productive ways? What happens if you have a good relationship with your emotions? And then what happens if you practice stepping back from those emotions and seeing them as something that passes through and not an intrinsic part of who you are? Are you better off?

If you think that life is illusion, and that self is illusion, a path that helps you see this more clearly is obviously what you want. But what if that isn’t your perspective? What if you see yourself as a distinct entity and at the same time part of the network of all existence? For an animist, this separate togetherness is a possibility for understanding your place in the world.

Are you worse off if you want to identify with your own emotions? Are you less enlightened if you want a path of involvement with your own feelings, building a sense of self out of your emotional responses to life? For me, Druidry has always been about deep immersion – identifying as a feeling and living being in a world that is alive with intelligence and feeling. My feelings are my response to life, and also part of what I give back. I do my best everything when I give a lot of space to my emotions, take them seriously and invest in what they show me about what’s happening. I’ve started to consider the idea that I may be practicing attachment.

What you need from life depends on who you are and what you want. There’s scope for great diversity here and many different ways of being. For some people, mindfulness and non-attachment makes perfect sense. I have no doubt that for many people it is a rewarding path. What bothers me is the narrative that comes with it about what it means to be human, and a very few options about how to relate to ourselves and live well. It may well be that for those who dig deeper it is more complex, but what’s floating around increasingly in mainstream awareness is painfully narrow.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Attachment and the Druid

  • Ellen Efenricea

    Synchronicity. I was just pondering the part attachment should or shouldn’t play in relationship and then saw this on my notifications.
    I did a post a while back (modern mindfulness: spiritual fast food) exploring how mindfulness has sunk into our national psyche – lots of Thich Nath Hanh references again.

    I think if you do it, you have to dig really deep. Doing it in the superficial manner of modern western mindfulness is just not helpful other than superficially to avoid instant drama (useful skill sometimes but can easily just turn into unhealthy avoidance).

    My interpretation is that it’s ok to feel, recognise and even often to demonstrate or act on your emotions but the non-attachment means that it’s ok to also let go of them when they’re spent. Oversimplification; but a moment’s anger doesn’t need to be a lifetime blood feud or even a long held grudge, equally a moment’s gratitude is not a lifetime obligation.
    It’s ok to experience a strong emotion but not to eternally define yourself by that feeling.

    In relation to druidy which I think is heavily based on embodiment, the hormone reactions and natural fluctuations of our bodies which manifest as emotions probably shouldn’t be denied or ignored, rather embraced as a part of our embodied experience of life?

    I need to work on those ideas a bit more…
    Thanks for your thought provoking post

  • manonbicycle

    Most of the modern mindfulness movement was cherry picked from Buddhism’s samma sati (skilful mindfulness) and it has a similar relationship that Big Pharma has to herbalism, i.e. take the bit you think is useful and ignore the rest, not realizing that these traditions work holistically.

    In Buddhism, mindfulness works with ethics and wisdom as a vehicle for transformation. But “mindfulness” today encourages a kind of quietism, a coping mechanism, rather than a transforming one, this is politically expedient, particularly in the workplace.

    Christopher Titmuss’s book The Political Buddha is very good on this.

    Strong emotions like anger can be very destructive, but they can fuel positive action if used mindfully, it’s like surfing a powerful wave. You can be scattered and damaged by it, or you ride the energy with benefit.

    • Nimue Brown

      many thanks for this – that makes a great deal of sense. I admit to being especially sick of how faux western mindfulness is being foisted onto people with mental health problems – you’re right, quietening and coping rather than transformation, and that’s a massive issue and I hadn’t quite pinned it down before.

  • thesseli

    I’ve never believed in the whole non-attachment/life is an illusion/we need to transcend our bodies and emotions thing anyway.

  • tarotlenormandcards

    Mindfulness , that is awareness of your thoughts, feelings etc. gives you the freedom of choice, and time to decide… so you can decide to follow them or go into an other direction. If you are angry and you are aware of it , you can choose whether let anger fade away or to use to achieve your goal. It can give you extra energy for completing a task, for example, or give courage…. after all anger is just energy, with a certain colour. Mindfulness in my experience is not about being calmer or better:). – it can be a by-product though, … it is about being more authentic. It is a really empowering bunch of techniques. A joyful, sometimes very funny dance in your inner world, that has strong effect on your “outer” world. In Buddhism there are several ways to deal with these energies: you can renounce them, or transform them, or well watch them, but not let them ride on your back.

    • Nimue Brown

      this makes a lot more sense to me than the vast majority of versions available online. I suspect that’s in no small part about the difference between Buddhism, and a superficial western borrowing from it.

  • eberis

    I offer the theme of space and a memora of time called timea is driving me mad about the problem of temporum on enterprise servers getting , it’s weird .. pretense of a meme of strange again ; temporanum . not being attached to those you like is very important to let go and have peace of the repository of ‘Nature’ . I meant this . global peace now .

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