Transcendent Attachment

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Facing life and its various experiences – its beauty, pain and mystery – people throughout time had developed spiritual life-strategies, in the hope of achieving a sustainable and functioning sense of being.

Within these attitudes, three distinctive types of 'other-worldly' reactions are extremely common: seclusion, conceptualization and submission. Put more broadly, when the absurdity of life and the unlikelihood of the universe becomes apparent to an individual – usually while growing up or during an initiation phase – one unusually tries the following: to stay as far away from worldly phenomena, to mentally understand them, or to consent and 'give oneself' to them completely.

These tendencies (and their combinations) can be found in almost every spiritual way-of-being adopted by the world's cultures. In other words, the universal spiritual goal, shared by all humans, tends to manifest itself in these three types of being: the secluded ascetic, the conceptualizing scholar or the submitting sage.

An ascetic's seclusion approach may lead to different forms of monasticism, expressed by hermits, monks and pious societies that appear in most of the world's religions. This approach is expressed in the diminishing of certain or all distracting stimulations, while willing to take the necessary steps to achieve this goal.

A scholar's conceptualization approach may lead to different practices of rationalization or knowledge-acquisition, as seen in the Western traditions of Judeo-Christian religion and Romeo-Greek philosophy. This approach is expressed in seeking to divide problems into ever-smaller containing parts, before arranging them in an orderly fashion within an all-including system of thought.

A sage's submission approach may lead to different practices of equanimity, flow, or acceptance, as seen in various schools of Buddhism, Daoism, Western mindfulness practices and indigenous elders traditions. This approach is expressed in the welcoming of experience with approval, with a continuation of or 'going-with' whatever is happening.

Not surprisingly, these three ways of relating to the universe are similar to the three main attachment styles explored in psychology – the three general ways we tend to connect to our main care-givers at infancy. For what is the universe (the natural or the god-filled one) if not the ultimate care-giver, the supreme father and mother? Indeed, it is the universe surrounding us, this ancient source of harm, providence and guidance, which since time immemorial had been the recipient subject of our wishes, hopes, fears and dreams – as well as the endower of their possible fulfilment.

These three main psychological attachment styles, although still being researched and developed, can be summarized as follows:

Avoidant attachment occurs when the infant avoids their caregiver, showing little emotion when the caregiver departs or returns. The caregiver is non attentive and unresponsive to the child, resulting in the insufficient expression of attachment by him.

Anxious Attachment occurs when the infant feels separation anxiety when separated from the caregiver and does not feel reassured when the caregiver returns to the him. The caregiver is behaving in an inconsistent manner with the child, resulting in the excessive expression of attachment by him.

Secure Attachment occurs when the infant feels he can rely on his caregiver to attend to his needs of proximity, emotional support and protection. The caregiver is mindful and responsive to the child, resulting in the balanced expression of attachment by him.

Now, with this psychological theory in mind, it is not hard to turn our attention away from the early stages of individual humans, and focus on the early stages of humanity itself, as it develops and grows with relation to its ultimate caregiver – the natural or god-filled universe.

For as we shall see, it is this process of trying to interpret and manipulate nature that had caused different cultures to get attached to it in different ways, thus creating various spiritual insights and practices. All our religions, in other words, are the result of humanity's different relations to 'The Universe', the expression of humanity's different styles of Transcendent Attachment.

To explore this psycho-religious analogy a bit further, we can review the following scenario, which takes place around 4000 years ago:

A farmer's family have been working for a few years to establish a livable land for themselves, building dams around a small river to secure the flow of water, plowing the earth to grantee food, and reinforcing the natural fences to keep animals at bay.

During all this time, the family have taken all the appropriate measures to ensure the arrival of this winter's rains. They have prayed endlessly, paid their dues to the local priesthood, and even sacrificed their younger son to the gods, burring him alive beneath the house doors. They have done all that their ancestors have taught them, all that they have experienced growing up in their culture, all that they know they must do.

Now let's imagine a few different endings to this scenario. 1. The rain doesn’t come, and life is getting depressingly harder. 2. A little bit of water accumulates, but the dams and irrigation systems fail to capture it, resulting in the loss of the heavenly gift. 3. The rains come in an orderly fashion and the family's farm flourishes.

What kind of psychological experience can we expect to form in the minds of the family members after each event? What kind of stories will the parents tell their children about the world and its gods in each ending? What kind of questions would the children ask themselves as they grow up and explore the universe by themselves?

Regarding these different scenarios, a few such questions may come to mind: 1. Is the lack of rain a result of their insufficient faith? 2. Is the small amount of water and its quick vanishing due to a misunderstanding of the god's demands? 3. Is their success a result of their pious behavior?

In answering these questions, it is easy to see how different spiritual strategies can come about; how different religious attitudes, different styles of Transcendent Attachment, can create various world-views and changing belief systems.

In the first ending of the scenario, for example, a lack of rain may easily be interpreted as a lack of attention and caring by the gods, thus setting the stage for a disenchanted perception of the divine. The family may very well see all other phenomena as unconnected to their circumstance, ignoring further 'signs' from the universe, while teaching their kids that this world just does not matter.

Seeking her own way as she grows up, the family's oldest daughter could find herself initiated at a faraway desert, alone and secluded from distracting stimulations, in the hope of finding a deeper truth behind the illusion of this life. She is showing an Avoidant Attachment approach, as her ascetic ways slowly become the basis for monastery life worldwide.

The second ending to the scenario – in which a small amount of water does accumulate, only to vanish some days later – may very well create a baffled and confused view of the gods; for they seem to lift the family spirits only to crash them completely. Were they right or wrong in their preparations? Was their downfall resulted from their own doing or did the gods intervene in a cruel manner? In what point have they gone astray, and what should they do in the future?

 Dealing with these questions, the family's oldest son may come to realize that the gods appreciate some of his deeds, but disapprove others, as they are giving him ambiguous messages. If he want to survive, he must learn the right ways, and never cease to do so. He must try to carefully understand the true meaning of the godly signs, as he is very much dependent on them for his live. And from this stage, it is not hard to see the appeal of a scholarly conceptualization point of view, which matches the Anxious Attachment to the transcendent.

In a similar manner, it is easy to see the spiritual results of the third ending to the scenario: how the lucky correspondence between the family's wishes, actions, and random events in the universe can lead to a sense of Secure Attachment to the transcendent.

A life next to reliable rivers, ample sources of food and lack of immediate threats, could, in a few generations, foster a mindset that generally trusts the universe, and a society that regards the sage and his techniques for 'going-with' the universe with the utmost respect. By the forces of culture and education, this mindset is then reinforced again and again, leading to the creation of a more harmonious worldview – a positive attachment between the society at large and the transcendent which surrounds it.

And indeed, when examining the general attributes of different civilizations, one can see how a society's temperament can be easily connected to its environment and its basic life source. The Indus River, for example, had been known throughout history to be a considerably trusted, mild, predictable and easy to navigate river. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers, on the other hand, were known to be violent, unpredictable, wild and hard to navigate. Thus, it is of no surprise that the cultures which rose around the Indus valley have developed a relatively more tolerate, relaxed, and easy-going system of gods, while the Mesopotamian cultures, which have grown in the fertile crescent, had imagined a variety of angrier, more capricious, and ultimately unsatisfied beings for their mythology.

A good example of this mythology can be found in the famous Mesopotamian story of the flood. Regarding our scenario, we can talk about a situation in which so much rain comes, that a flood swipes the area, devastating the family farm and killing a few of its members. In this case, the surviving members can very well ask themselves a question like this: is the flood a punishment for their failure to sacrifice the right child?

For as we have seen, the family did all they could to please the gods, and the gods disregard them. They are beaten, depressed and overwhelmed, as they have lost confidence in the caring universe – a universe they now see as a cold and untrusted place.

Slowly but surely, they start a new life in another location, while their hard work finally pays off: they have some new children and they live in a small house. But their stories are not the same anymore. Their decedents are now being told of an unpredictable and capricious god, one that demands more faith and worship for his gifts, though not always bestowing them.

Thus, instead of improving their technologies, they improve their relationships to the local priesthood; instead of understanding their surroundings, they try to understand the whims of their abusive 'father'; instead of relying on the abundance and splendor of nature, they now rely on finding the right ways to please their god. A few generation later – we have ourselves an Abrahamic religion: an anxious-with-a-hint-of-secure style of transcendent attachment.

If our analogy is true, and an individual's psychological attachment to its caregivers could be expanded to a society's cultural attachment to the universe, what can we learn from it? Can we create a model for better community upbringing, similar to the theories regarding better child rearing? Can we describe what a secure transcendent attachment could look like, and then break it down to political and educational advices?

Regarding the verity of concepts that attributes a soul, a mind or a 'way of being' to different communities – concepts such as the German Volksgeist (folk spirit), or the French 'Esprit de la nation' (spirit of the nation) – it seems that we must do so. In other words, we should talk about Geistology or Espritology: the science of a group's way-of-being, as it is formed throughout their history, applied in relation to their experience, and directed towards the sublime reality with which they aspire to connect. We should talk about the theory of Transcendent Attachment.

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