Attachement or Preference?

When yesterday’s me gets in the way of today.

The concept of attachment is a popular topic in modern spiritual circles, but it is often viewed through a dramatic lens. People point to traumatic experiences, obsession and co-dependency when attachment is for more subtle and insidious than that. Attachments can seem benign and even helpful when trying to make it in society today. They are commonly confused with preferences, but there is an important distinction.

Attachments and Identity

Identification is the difference between a preference and an attachment. Attachments are the product of claiming that things outside of me ARE me or are what define me.

“My favorite color is _____.”
“The only good music is _____.”
“I would never _____.”

If I identify myself by any tendency to repeat past choices, then I am like a hermit crab wearing a shell discarded from my past; I am attached, and I wear my attachments like badges of honor. I defend them ferociously, because if they are not me, then I would be left naked and afraid, questioning everything. No thank you.

So I announce them in conversations, making sure everyone knows what to expect from me. These include the roles I play in the lives of others.

“I’m a hard worker.”
“I’m a husband.”
“I’m a good person.”

But the truth is more fleeting, and far more interesting.

Attachments for Acceptance

Modern American culture encourages us to identify ourselves with outside things and our relationships to those things in order to connect with others. This leads us to the idea that, somehow, by minimizing the self into simple definitions, we can attract like-minded individuals. And if we commit to these definitions, people will know what to expect from us. So we dutifully fill out social and dating profiles with our favorite movies, TV shows, sports teams, music, etc., investing in extensive collections of stuff, as if what I like today is who I will be forever.

We accept the notion that what I like today defines my tomorrow.

We may make these choices to be accepted, but the side effects lead to entrenchment in our differences. We identify so deeply with our collected definitions that they become opportunities for separation. Look at sports fans for rival teams. Both love the same sport and the skill it takes to play, yet the animosity is so strong it can erupt in intense and sometimes life-threatening violence.

Once we define ourselves in this way to others, we become accountable to maintain this facade… this charade… this betrayal of self. Eventually we feel the weight of the oppressive stress of maintaining this display. Our uncontainable human spirit struggles against these self-imposed limitations as we yearn to evolve and become more than we were yesterday.

From Attachments to Preferences

There is a lessor sibling on this spectrum that lets us have influence over our present and our future without going all the way into attachment. These are preferences, and they can be a healthy and effective way to create the life we desire. Preferences only exist right now, and are subject to the context and motivations I am presently experiencing.

In this moment, I might like blue more than green. I can express that preference by wearing the blue shirt today. By this afternoon I am feeling green more than blue, and I can choose whether or not that preference requires an action on my part to maintain the quality of my experience. That shift in preference is the evidence of a free spirit. I can choose to stay in the present, moved by the moment to prefer what serves me best right now, based on the resources and opportunities I have made available.

Affirmation: Today I shrug off the shell of the past and experience everything as if for the first time. I redesign my preferences to suit myself in the new present I am creating. Then the me that I share with others becomes more clear… a constantly evolving and learning being, striving to become a better version of my present self. I am free to be the me that is arriving, and those around me will enjoy discovering this version of me once it arrives.

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