"What if my mother died?" you ask.
"Impermanence," we say and shrug our shoulders.
"Or if you lost your job?"
"Everything's impermanent," we say and let it go.
"Your boyfriend dumped you?"
"Everything's impermanent," we say and chide you for your heartache.
All wrong. All completely and totally wrong. Not Buddhist. Not right thinking.
"Everything's impermanent." Have I thought such a thing to help soothe myself over loss? Yes. But that's got less to do with me being a Buddhist than it has to do with my abandonment issues. Yes, I am guilty of using "Everything's impermanent" as a talisman to protect me from hurt. If I don't hold on to anything or anyone, then I can't be hurt when they inevitably abandon me.
But don't take that action as Buddhist action or right thinking on my part. When I have thought or acted that way, I was acting out of childhood hurt not Buddhism. If I build a protective shell around myself so no one can hurt me, no one can ever leave me, then I will be safe. Perhaps if I hold you just far enough away from me, I won't miss you when you're gone.
But this whole being Buddhist thing is about love. How do I open myself to love? How do I crack that shell and cast aside my defenses? How do I learn to have a healthy attachment to someone else? In my case, I need to work on attachment before I can ever get this whole "nonattachment" thing down.
Buddhism isn't isolation. Buddhism isn't living in a cave carved out of the side of a mountain with a long white beard and a wooden staff. Buddhism, for me, is learning to live with my fellow human beings. It's learning to love them. It's learning to open myself up and risk getting hurt by them.
A healthy psychological attachment to other human beings is desired in Buddhism. In psychology, an infant's healthy attachment to its mother is what enables that baby to feel safe and secure enough to explore the world. In Buddhism, a healthy attachment to life and the people in it is what enables us to explore the world too. It enables us to explore the world of our minds, to brave sitting on a mat and being comfortable with our own thoughts. It enables us to experience the discomfort that can come with self-discovery and self-awareness.
None of this evolution of the self could occur without healthy attachment. And what does healthy attachment lead to? What is the desired end result in Buddhism? Is it the so-called detachment of the wise old sage? No. It is this:
"[A]ccording to the Buddhist point of view, nonattachment is exactly the opposite of separation. You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In nonattachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There’s unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?"
— Zen teacher John Daido Loori
For me, it all boils down to the fact that you can't have a healthy nonattachment until you have learned how to attach to people. That's where I'm at right now. I'm getting more comfortable with attachment. I'm still learning how to love. Really love. Without fear and ego getting in the way.