We Must Give up on Finding Security, a Sense of Belonging, and an Identity in Things and People
We must abandon the models and teaching from our childhood that taught us we can be happy and fulfilled only if we acquire and hold onto things, activities, and affiliations that will give us the feeling we are secure, loved, and successful.
To lead healthy, happy lives and grow in our ability to love and show compassion, we must engage in the scary, painful activity of giving up on the need for things, activities, and affiliations so we can establish our own unique, new identity that will remain, strong, vibrant, and full of self-assurance as each of the things we had been investing our identity in inevitably pass away.
People who refuse to give up on the old conditions of their lives when the inevitable changes occur make themselves miserable. Carl Jung, the pioneering psychoanalyst, wrote,
For when new conditions not provided for by the old conventions arise, then panic seizes the human being who has been held unconscious by routine, much as it seizes an animal, and with equally unpredictable results.[i]
The attachment to things, activities, and affiliations is referred to in Buddhism as dukkha. The result of dukkha is suffering. The solution to dukkha is to stop clinging and attaching. We must see that the things, activities, and affiliations we thought were important have no lasting value. They will not give us enduring happiness. In the end, striving for them, worrying about losing them, and inevitably losing them makes us miserable. When we stop clinging to things, activities, and affiliations, the craving for them will disappear on its own. We will be happy without a reason for it. The cessation of the suffering is nirvana.
This giving up on things, activities, and affiliations is what makes Buddhism different from other religious philosophies. While other religions seek to achieve some state of grace through hard work and active repudiation, Buddhism teaches that we are inherently joyful and that we will have happiness without a reason for it when we abandon our misguided belief that we must have specific things, activities, and affiliations to be happy. When we do so, we experience the essential Buddhahood that is within us all.
We also will enhance our relationships. As long as we feel that to be happy, life and the people around us must give us things we need to be happy, we are placing tremendous burdens on the people in our lives. Some will acquiesce and give us what we insist we need, but with a measure of resentment. Others will simply leave. When we place no demands on the people around us to feel and behave in ways that give us microbursts of happiness, they will feel freer around us, more interested in us, and happier being with us. They will love us for who we are.
[i] C. G. Jung, Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 17: The Development of Personality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954).