Attachment & the Flow of Experience


The deepest conditioning we have, the deepest habit of mind, and the root cause of so much suffering in the world is the attachment we have to the concept of self.

It’s the idea and often the felt sense that there is someone behind the flow of experience to whom it is happening, don’t we have that sense? All of us experience this happening and we’re the ones to whom it is happening. And so we have this idea of self or of “I”. We create a reference point for all experience an then we call that mental construct of the reference point “self”.

So how does this happen? This is what we want to investigate, how are we doing this? Because it’s the common way we are perceiving the world, all experiences coming back to a sense of “I”. We become attached to and identified with this concept of self because of a superficial perception of experience and the world. We’re not seeing things deeply. We get up in the morning, we look in the mirror, we see a certain appearance, we designate that appearance, we’ve created a concept for an appearance and then not looking deeply to see what is really there, we’re satisfied with that, and this is what happens in our lives – we’re satisfied with superficial perceptions and the concepts that we use and we don’t look deeper.

As an example of this, you go out after a rainstorm and maybe you see a rainbow. The rainbow is beautiful and usually it brings a certain kind of joy when we see it. But what is a rainbow? Is a rainbow something in itself or is it an appearance arising out of certain conditions coming together – out of air and moisture and light, so these conditions come together and there’s an appearance of a rainbow. But the rainbow is not something of itself other than the coming together of these conditions.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t see what we see. We’re seeing a rainbow, but with mindfulness we are both on the level of appearance (the beauty of the rainbow) and also we go deeper to understand the conditions which are giving rise to that appearance. So this allows us to delight in the appearance without becoming attached to it because we understand the changing nature of the condition. So we have to understand, we’re real like the rainbow is real, but not really real, and that’s what Vipassana, or insight reveals. We begin to see the underlying conditions are processes which give rise to the appearance, and we see that those conditions and elements are continually changing.

This blog is a partial transcription of a talk given by Joseph Goldstein at the Northern Light Vipassana Society in February, 2015. View the full video here

Hear more from Joseph through his Insight Hour podcast.