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An IM Q&A: Non-attachment, nondoing, and somatic healing

(Before we get started, just a mild fyi that it doesn't really matter--to me--whether the "non" I will use below is hyphenated, or just spaced, or not spaced, before a word like "doing" or "attachment". I do it all three interchangeably based on what feels easiest to understand.)

And so!

I received this question from IM'er Alyssa:

I’m curious if you’ve written anything about the difference between "non doing" and "non attachment". Someone was talking to me about the damage that "non attachment" caused for them cause they felt like it sort of meant nothing mattered.

The conversation had me thinking about how you say non do and that also doesn’t feel like doing nothing because it’s the act of not doing.

To dearest Alyssa:

I think it's an issue of semantics with the word "non-attachment" with your friend.

The phrasing more associated with the "nothing mattering"-type meaning your friend referred to is not non-attachment but "detachment".

Non-attachment is in the same family, same vein, as nondoing. The concepts are similar and go together and point toward the same thing.

Non-attachment and detachment and are the antithesis of each other. Not enemies because non-attachment doesn't really have any enemies:). But non-attachment heals suffering; and detachment is a reaction to it.


I can understand, though, why non-attachment would be interpreted, or perhaps even taught, as detachment.

The way we culturally use the word "attached" often is positive or at least neutral. Babies must form an attachment to their caretakers to be healthy, Steve is so attached to his record collection, etc.

As typically used in Buddhism and Taoism, though, the term "attachment" refers to the act of identifying one's self with pretty much any verb or noun--a person, place, thing, or concept, or activity. The thought that comes with attachment may be: I cannot live, I cannot be, "I" am not, I cannot exist, without this thing.

Attachment looks a lot like love. It is a lot like love.

Attachment is the unconscious expression of love.

Love, is the conscious express of What Is.

Attachment has a closed energy.

Love has an open energy.

That energy difference makes all the difference.


It's really, really, really hard to love truly. Even typing these words, my heart aches for me and for all of us. Because we want to hold on. We want to cling. We think we have to. And of course we think we have to, because at some point, we really did have to in order to survive.

We are so innocent in our clinging, which is otherwise known as suffering. All degrees of it, personal and global. So much of what we do is to hold on.

And so, accordingly in Buddhism and Taoism: the way out of suffering is to non-do: to non-hold on. To non-attach.


Nondoing, though, and non-attachment, are not synonyms for not doing anything and cultivating detachment.

Nondoing and non-attachment are deeply, deeply engaged acts of being with.

When we non-do and non-attach, we say: I will see the pain in wanting to do something--in wanting to hold on. But instead of acting on that pain: I will see it. I will see it, and I will be with it.

To those who haven't done it, "being with" one's pain can sound like rather rather pansy-ish.

That's because one can't mentally "understand" beingwithness, or nondoing, or the resulting non-attachment. It's a felt, bodily experience that, for deep pain, often requires a formal container. Pansies, it turns out, are no fucking joke. Neither is true love.


When we be with/non-do, and thus, non-attach: we alchemize this pain.

By our effortful beingwithness of the pain, we render it conscious. Our effortful sitting with, and seeing, is the crucible within which our pain is purified into true love.

Each time we be with/non-do/non-attach: we literally grow our ability to truly love.


Detachment, which is what I think caused the damage your friend referred to, is an attempt to get away from pain.

It's an attempt to deny it, suppress it, be cooler than it, get rid of it, fix it. It's a form of suffering because its point is to do something to or about the pain--to get away from it--rather than be with it.

Thusly, detachment, and doing, are trauma responses that also perpetuate further trauma.

Might be a tiny trauma or a huge one being responded to/perpetuated. Same root, though.


Nondoing has a lot of different names, so the word itself doesn't really matter. Same thing with attachment, and non-attachment, and detachment.

It's the felt experiences the words point toward.

We all are called to be more and more loving, to be evermore Love itself. As I've stated above--and as I know you know, Alyssa!!!--the work is very effortful.

And as I also know you know: you can recognize the work of True Love--which also may be named as the work of nondoing and non-attachment, by its inherent joy. It is such joyous work. It is joy itself--or, it at least points us toward joy.

Your friend was right in feeling something was off about the message of "nothing matters".

For what joy says is, "Everything matters. We all, all of us, matter so much. It all matters."


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