Are you getting rope burn?
Cling less, love more
As a rock climber and a parent, I know some physical kinds of clinging are good – like too small holds or small hands!
But clinging as a psychological state has a feeling of tension in it, and drivenness, insistence, obsession, or compulsion. As experiences flow through the mind – seeing, hearing, planning, worrying, etc. – they have what’s called a “hedonic tone” of being pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. It’s natural to like what’s pleasant and to dislike what’s unpleasant: no problem so far. But then the mind takes it a step further – usually very quickly – and tries to grab what’s pleasant, fight or flee from what’s unpleasant, or prod what’s neutral to get pleasant: this quality of grabbing, pushing, resisting, or pressing is the hallmark of clinging.
Clinging is different from healthy desire, where we have wholesome values, aims, purposes, aspirations, and commitments – without being attached to the results. Yes, we could feel passionate about our goals and work hard for them, and the stakes could be high (e.g., the health of a child, the success of a business, the fate of the earth’s climate), but when there’s no clinging, we are deep down at peace with whatever happens even if the surface layers of the mind are understandably disappointed, sad, or upset.
Watch your mind and you’ll see it cling to lots of things (remembering that pulling toward and pushing away are each a form of clinging). These include objects, viewpoints, routines, pleasures and pain, status, and even the sense of self (as when we take something personally).
Recognize the costs of clinging. It’s never relaxed and always has a sense of strain, ranging from subtly unpleasant to intensely uncomfortable. It sucks us into chasing problematic goals, like stressing out for success, getting rigid or argumentative with others, being hooked on food or drugs, or seeking rewards in relationships that will never come. It clenches and contracts rather than opens. And clinging today plants the seeds of clinging tomorrow.
Most fundamentally, clinging puts us at odds with the nature of existence, which is always changing. The American Buddhist teacher, Joseph Goldstein, likens the stream of consciousness to a rope running through your hands: if you cling to any bit of it, you get rope burn.
But if you let it run free – if you let experiences come and go – you feel peaceful and happy. Your mind and body open, and love flows freely, the natural expression of the unclenched heart.