Unconsciously, our ego stretches its threads to intertwine itself with countless thought forms. One of the ego’s functions is to attach. When this emotional attachment to material things is excessive, one becomes absorbed in it. An obsession occurs and this limits the mental and emotional freedom of the person, or in other words, a person begins to think too much or crave for the thing to which he is attached, which greatly reduces his ability to experience other kinds of thoughts and feelings. This leads to an internal imbalance causing disequilibrium.
Often the ego blinds us to what is right and good as it distorts reality to serve its needs. For example, it could be our tendency to make excuses. It can serve harmful tendencies, both for ourselves and others. When we become defensive, we are protecting our ego. Perhaps we can even say that our ego has hijacked our consciousness and is defending itself. It is as if we had been possessed by some kind of being. We want to be right and make sure others know they are wrong. In such cases, our ego has become attached to being “right”. This allows us to feel superior to them. It’s an existential version of our mammalian instinct to establish ourselves at the top of the social hierarchy.
When we are too attached to something, we lose our flexibility. This lowers our ability to adapt to change. For example, if we are too attached to our comfort zone, we tend to resist any changes, some of which may also bring us healthy variety in life. If we are too attached to comforts, even the slightest inconvenience would cause us stress and great resentment. If we are too attached to desires that we cannot fulfill in the present, we suffer much more from this attachment than from the unfulfillment of the desires.
It’s human to get attached to things we like. But when this attachment is excessive, things become obsessive. Then we become dependent on them and begin to enslave them. We can become overly attached to anything: our car, status, club, team, hobby, college, country, flag, political party/candidate, religion, cause, personal history, honor, reputation, being consistently right, etc. For example, when we get irritated with someone who disagrees with our opinion, our irritation actually stems from an excessive attachment to our opinion. Therefore, we cannot respect the right of others to their own opinion. We may even become too attached to freedom, flexibility, and detachment. For example, if I get upset with you because you disagree with me about the importance of non-attachment, then I am too attached to the concept of non-attachment. This emotional attachment to material things reside in our heads; it is a mental construct that we unconsciously create. Part of the problem with attachment comes from giving too much importance to things that matter very little.
As the threads of our attachments begin to loosen, we reclaim the captive parts of ourselves. The burden of over-desire falls away. We are becoming more flexible and adaptable. What was extremely important to us has now become less important. This frees up space in us for other things that may be just as important or even more important.
So anyone who is hard and unyielding is a disciple of death. He who is soft and yielding is a student of life. – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching