Attachment Versus Connection: Letting Go Of Ego In Our Lives

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The purpose of religious engagement and in particular the cultivation of spirituality is to live a life of meaning and purpose. Abraham Maslow created a rough equivalent goal with the point of the triangle of his “hierarchy of needs.” Maslow refers to this point as “self-actualization.” Self-actualization is a piece of living a life of meaning and purpose, but with so many opportunities out there, why are there still so many miserable people out there? Why is suicide the third leading cause of death in American? Why are there 121 million prescriptions for psychiatric medications floating around in America alone? Why are so many in active addiction? Why does the U.S. despite only being 4 % of the population of the world consume 80% of all of the opiates manufactured in the world? All of these questions are larger systemic questions that I would not begin to be able to adequately answer fully here, but from a spiritual perspective, I believe that a lot of our problem is how we are approaching the concept of self-actualization. In America, in particular, and in countries that follow the Abrahamic western religious traditions, this notion that one group or another are a people “set apart” is a cornerstone of faith tradition. The problem with this worldview is that it does two things. First, it creates a religiously sanctioned type of elitism that if left unchecked can easily morph into a kind of bigotry that insidiously can turn into the dehumanization of those that don’t agree with us. The second thing that it does is inflate the ego. It encourages a disconnection between people in favor of the self. One need only look around in America at the materialism and self-centeredness to see that these conditions exist. This is where Maslow and modern psychology get it wrong. Maslow’s push towards self-actualization and modern psychology’s interest in developing a solid sense of self contribute to a strengthening of the ego. The prevailing thought is that the stronger ego allows for a person to function as a healthier person, but this does not take things far enough. So, how do we deal with all of this as a society? Well, I am glad you asked. I think one possible solution is found in the Chinese wisdom literature. In Taoism, there is a concept called “Wu Wei.” Wu Wei literally means “non-action” which is completely in contrast with the action that the ego often craves. The word “Tao” means “the way.” So, the tenets of Taoism in particular include action by inaction while also recognizing the connectedness that we share with everything and everyone around us. Herein lies the secret to shifting values. In America, we tend to be ego driven and tend towards developing strong attachments. This is not the way in Eastern religions which focus on detachment. Well, you might ask, how is one to live a meaningful life that is not attached to anything? To which I would reply that you are asking the wrong question. The real piece of all of this to understand is that there is a difference between attachment and connectedness. Attachment is a completely ego driven activity and looks at things only in relation to the self while connectedness realizes that we are part of the greater fabric of life and that we are actually part of everything and everyone around us and vice versa. This brings me to the possible solution to our problems of human misery and our difficulty with finding meaning and purpose in life. Meaning and purpose was never meant to be experienced outside of our connectedness with everything. Trying to do so has only contributed to ego driven activity with the ultimate byproduct being human misery. So, I wrap up our conversation this morning with a reflection for you: How can you work to be less attached to yourself and more connected to everything and everyone around you? The beginning of true self-actualization and happiness is to truly understand the difference between attachment and connectedness. True meaning and purpose come from the intersection of our lives with the realization that we are intimately connected with the world and all in it. Our meaning and purpose is intertwined with everyone we come into contact with and harmony within ourselves is dependent upon our harmony with those around us and our harmony with the world.-

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