Attachment in friendships

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Attachment in friendships

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:13 pm

Hi, everyone. I know attachment is a very big word here, but I was hoping to get some input on a few practical matters regarding attachment... specifically, in relationships with other people.

First, I think I've been really feeling the weight of the first two truths lately. I am very clingy with a few friends. I notice that when I feel unappreciated, I start to get very hurt. I'll start thinking, "I don't want to be some shoulder to cry on then get ignored when things are good" or like these people OWE me something for being so supportive, namely their friendship as I imagine it should be.

I can clearly see that my expectations and attachment to them is what's making me miserable, regardless of if these people are good friends or not. This attachment is like a painful knot that I can practically feel in my mind, yet I have absolutely no idea how to untie it.

I start to feel that somehow my relationships ARE my attachments and expectations. I can't imagine them without my side of things. I feel with a sense of indignation that if I just let go of them, I'm ignoring MY needs, and becoming a doormat for all kinds of emotional abuse. I even recall a phrase used by Pema Chödrön... "idiot compassion." Don't express idiot compassion by letting people use you this way, it does them absolutely no good... Then I wonder if in this instance I'm just justifying my clinging to how things should be.

I realize my question is probably a bit meandering like usual. I suppose I'm asking these things:

* If you're swept up in suffering then clearly see your tender spot, how in the world do you approach it? Maybe this is moving from the second Noble Truth to the third.

* How do you find that balance between abandoning the constant needy wail of the self, yet not practicing "idiot compassion"? The image used is inviting a bunch of people over, then getting kicked out on the street when you try to end the party. You sit there on the sidewalk going, "I'm practicing compassion!" I feel that way rather often.

* I'm also having a hard time not trivializing my own suffering and feelings. I'll feel a certain way, then go "Well, that's just your ego. Let go." I'll be hurt by something someone does to me, then go "You were hoping for something else, how selfish." It's almost like my ego is playing hide and seek with me. I can't find where wholesome concerns for wellbeing are and where I'm simply trying to get my way.

Thank you all so much for your insight. I hope this isn't too vague. I can't help but remember Chögyam Trungpa's famous quote about avoiding the spiritual path altogether because it's too hard. It would be so nice to just feel hurt and justified in a tidy little package.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby Jesse » Fri Feb 24, 2012 8:00 pm

Hi duckfiasco,

The thing's we most tightly grasp, are ideas, emotions and thoughts. When we learn to deal with these everything else becomes easier, and more clear. What I mean to say is we start by understanding that we are not our thoughts, emotions and ideas. There is no I to which these things refer. There are emotions, there are thoughts, there are ideas about this, and that.

It takes practice. Meditation and remaining mindful at all times is very helpful in letting us see this clearly. If you do not currently practice meditation, Definitely look into it.. walking meditation and zazen work well for this purpose in my experience. Any type of meditation will do though.

Compassion is compassion, I'm not sure if there is an 'idiot compassion', but once we understand some of the core ideologies in Buddhism we begin to see a picture that is far more altruistic, and combined with practice leads to a true sense of connection and compassion for others, and ourselves.

Though, take my advice with a grain of salt.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby zerwe » Fri Feb 24, 2012 10:18 pm

ghost01 wrote:Hi duckfiasco,

The thing's we most tightly grasp, are ideas, emotions and thoughts. When we learn to deal with these everything else becomes easier, and more clear. What I mean to say is we start by understanding that we are not our thoughts, emotions and ideas. There is no I to which these things refer. There are emotions, there are thoughts, there are ideas about this, and that.

It takes practice. Meditation and remaining mindful at all times is very helpful in letting us see this clearly. If you do not currently practice meditation, Definitely look into it.. walking meditation and zazen work well for this purpose in my experience. Any type of meditation will do though.

Compassion is compassion, I'm not sure if there is an 'idiot compassion', but once we understand some of the core ideologies in Buddhism we begin to see a picture that is far more altruistic, and combined with practice leads to a true sense of connection and compassion for others, and ourselves.

Though, take my advice with a grain of salt.


Ghost, you are right on with attachment. Essentially, attachment is when we project anything (ideas, thoughts, and emotions) that have no basis in

reality onto phenomena. A little off topic, but I have heard a teacher explain 'idiot compassion.' It is when we aspire to help others, but we

lack the wisdom or skill to actually be of help and in the end we may end up causing more harm than good. i.e., moving an accident victim and thus

paralyzing them as a result of our aiding them in a time of need.

Shaun :anjali:
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby catmoon » Sat Feb 25, 2012 12:23 am

Attachment is not something you bundle up and throw out with the trash. It's more like a sculpture you chip away at. There are several methods, one of which is meditation on impermanence. Today's most treasured friend may be gone tomorrow, to a new job, a new town or even the next life. So, if you set up a great attachment to something or someone impermanent, you will suffer greatly when inevitable change occurs. On the other hand, if you expect change, the attachment will not be so strong and when change occurs it will simply be what you were expecting all along. And because you were expecting change, you may have prepared for it, so the change will do you less harm.

After a few cycles of this, one has firsthand experience of change and impermanence. One develops skillls for dealing with it. Being able to deal with it well leads to a lack of fear of change, which in turn weakens attachments.

One might even reach a point where all good things are welcomed and cherished, and all loss and pain is taken in stride easily. It's starting to lok like the end of suffering, isn't it?
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby Aura » Sat Feb 25, 2012 2:44 am

There are some truly wonderful and compassionate people on this earth
who spend so much time compassionately nurturing and attending to the needs of others on this planet
that they have a tendency to neglect identifying and meeting their own needs
and cultivating their own growth and self development.

In order to achieve friendship without attachment,
one must mindfully attend to identifying and meeting one's own needs and cultivating one's own growth and development,
in concert and balance with compassionately attending to the needs of others on this earth.
Over-attending to the latter without adequate attention to the former will create clinging rather than growth for all parties involved.

It may be a difficult balance to find, but it is the necessary middle way which creates growth and balance for all
rather than the inevitable clinging, attachment, and resentment which occurs when such balance is not maintained.
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby Adumbra » Sat Feb 25, 2012 10:12 am

I think it depends on your motivation.

If you are investing all this time and affection in your friend because you expect to recieve love or validation in return you are making yourself vulnerable. I'm not saying such a motive is wrong -- your friend may be a very loving person and give you what you are asking for -- but it does make you vulnerable to suffering disappointment and heartbreak.

However, if you go into a friendship with only the intention of helping this person and showing them love, then you can never be disappointed. Even if this person scorns your love or coldly takes advantage of it without giving anything back in return, they cannot stop you from loving them and so your desire cannot be frustrated by their actions.

Also, I don't think persisting in kindess towards an unkind person necessarily makes you a doormat. As long as the kindness you show them is genuine and promotes their spiritual growth, such kindness is never wasted. However, if all you do is simply pander to their selfish desires because you think that is being kind then you are confusing help with indulgence. Help people, but don't indulge them. To use an example: Letting your kid eat nothing but candy may seem nice, but ultimately it doesn't help them; it only gratifies their craving for sugur. But taking the time to prepare a delicious AND nutritious meal for them is an expression of true love.

Now, whether or not someone who accepts your love but offers you none in return can be considered a friend is another question. I think a true friend returns your affection, though not always consistently or to the same extent.
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Feb 25, 2012 6:45 pm

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies :)

ghost01 wrote:Compassion is compassion, I'm not sure if there is an 'idiot compassion', but once we understand some of the core ideologies in Buddhism we begin to see a picture that is far more altruistic, and combined with practice leads to a true sense of connection and compassion for others, and ourselves.


I think zerwe got at what I'm trying to explain. Compassion without wisdom can lead to harm for everyone involved. In my case, trying to be compassionate often looks like me lying down and doing whatever others want. Being a martyr looks a lot like ego hiding in the wings going, "look how selfless I am". It's kind of funny to imagine. It's really hard to renounce in such a way that you're left feeling more open and less burdened, instead of what essentially amounts to a form of desire asceticism. I feel like desire just keeps on plugging away in the form of poignant lack of desire instead of no longer being relevant at all. I hope more practice will help with this.

catmoon wrote:Attachment is not something you bundle up and throw out with the trash. It's more like a sculpture you chip away at. There are several methods, one of which is meditation on impermanence. Today's most treasured friend may be gone tomorrow, to a new job, a new town or even the next life. So, if you set up a great attachment to something or someone impermanent, you will suffer greatly when inevitable change occurs.

Thank you. You're so right about attachment. I think it's easy to fool myself into thinking that intellectually understanding some of the dhamma means I have any form of attainment. Spiritual materialism at its finest :) Impermanence sounds like just the thing to focus on. My reaction happens when change rears its head. I sure don't have to be happy about impermanence overnight but it's probably better to work with unhappiness over the root cause than an outlying symptom.

Aura wrote:In order to achieve friendship without attachment,
one must mindfully attend to identifying and meeting one's own needs and cultivating one's own growth and development,
in concert and balance with compassionately attending to the needs of others on this earth.
Over-attending to the latter without adequate attention to the former will create clinging rather than growth for all parties involved.

Some very insightful people on this board :)

I do have a big problem putting myself before others in any way, even when it results in just what you said. Since last October, I've managed to go to ONE Buddhist center because of this. When my partner is home, I flat-out don't meditate so he doesn't feel like I'm ignoring him. Maybe it's time to start carving out some more time for spiritual development.

Adumbra wrote:If you are investing all this time and affection in your friend because you expect to recieve love or validation in return you are making yourself vulnerable. I'm not saying such a motive is wrong -- your friend may be a very loving person and give you what you are asking for -- but it does make you vulnerable to suffering disappointment and heartbreak.

I didn't even realize this is what I was doing until I read a passage by Ayya Khema on friendship. She said we so often treat friends as just another way to make ourselves bigger than we are, that it's become like a financial transaction where you give this to get this. And the bigger we make ourselves in this way, the bigger a small dissatisfaction feels. It felt like a cartoon slap to the face where you shake your head and go, "Thanks, I needed that."

It's shocking when you think that this is probably the normal way people treat friendships. I give you these emotions or this support, you give me that. You don't give me that, then I don't have the time or energy to be your friend. It's made me wonder just what IS being a friend to someone in the Buddhist sense?

The supreme difficulty is in doing what you said... finding a source of unconditional kindness yet not confusing that with wisdom and just pandering to whatever ruts or negative kamma you get wrapped up in. The whole attachment piece makes it very difficult to tell when you are just pandering.

Ultimately, it all seems a bit uncertain and confusing. If I can barely keep myself on the path of spiritual growth, how can I know what someone else needs? I do feel these posts and Ayya Khema's passage have pointed me in the right direction at least. I'm very grateful for that.

Thanks everyone!
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby Aura » Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:56 am

What are friends in the Buddhist sense?
Those who encourage and support one another in their individual growth and development along the path.
Friendship is not a matter of giving and getting, pleasing and being pleased, and furthering one's position in society and the world.
It is not a matter of clinging attachment and binding one another with each other's relentless needs and expectations.
Friendship in a Buddhist sense is primarily and above all else
a matter of encouraging, inspiring, and promoting one another's growth and development along the path.
A friend encourages and supports your endeavors to become more than you now know yourself to be.
Friendship is a great and rare gift.
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby Adumbra » Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:16 pm

A friend encourages and supports your endeavors to become more than you now know yourself to be.
Friendship is a great and rare gift.


I couldn't have put it better myself. :anjali:
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Re: Attachment in friendships

Postby muni » Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:55 pm

How can I make you happy? = I love you.

Please keep making me happy. = attachment. (attitudes).
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