Reflections on the pained ballet of attachment to non-attachment, on remembering to forget.
I’ve been in my head lately, which is frankly uncommon. I’m feeling needy: over-invested in certain people’s approval and opinion of me. I want A_ to forgive me. I want E_ to like me. I want C_ to hire me. I want my meditation group to assure me of their unanimous, mutual devotion.
I joked to E_ that I felt like a crushing 13 year-old boy. She suggested that due to my PNSE1, I don’t remember adolescent neediness accurately. She’s probably right. These days, I live in unwavering okayness. I let be what I cannot control. I allow events to take their course, even when they unfold in ways diametrically opposite my desires. I’m grateful to be here. But as my baseline affect sinks deeper into peace, relativity distorts and amplifies the negative valence of quotidian disturbances. Little, unexpected hang-ups can seem worse than they are.
In the case of my present distress, it’s clear to me that “shame about neediness” is more bothersome than the neediness, itself. At the origin of this discomfort is my personal enlightenment narrative, which births grievances like: “I thought I was over this, I thought I graduated? I’m free from the Juul, career- and capital- striving, from constant worry, from porn and pussy, but not this? Seriously? After all those hours on the cushion?” I suspect social neediness is the stickiest attachment of them all, being most foundational to the tribal creature’s survival. Sticking with the group has positive expected value. Outsourced approval assures us of our sanity. Accordingly, I’d do well to make time and space for infrequent bouts of shameful neediness in my personal ontology. They belong.
When I felt needy and ashamed as a teenager (primarily in dating situations), my mitigation strategy was straightforward: double down into performative non-neediness (which is, like, the ultimate form of neediness). Don’t text her back. Say something negative. Make plans with someone else. Unfortunately, these techniques are reliably effective at achieving their intended means (i.e get laid), while turning up the gain on the underlying issue.
Nowadays, I’m a pinch wiser; I know that truly transcending my unwanted feelings is a matter of letting them be. Non-neediness is not “not having feelings of neediness.” My immediate response to said feelings nowadays? Throw the whole fucking McMindfulness arsenal at the issue: Separate the narrative from the somatic! Allow and gently examine the relevant body sensations! Debunk misperceptions, prevent their influence on behavior! Speak compassionately to yourself, goddamnit!
Alas, my nuanced meta-perception of shame-tangled neediness and the swift, ensuing psychodynamic interventions blur into an obsessive psychic crusade, a braided prong to unswallow. I’ve merely spawned more warring subpersonalities, a council of inner courtiers jockeying for supremacy. After much frustration, the interior politicking loses diplomatic guise. Inevitably, the mindly dancers, in steaming fits, admit their utter dysfunction, defeat. The problem solvers resign. Only then is liberation possible...
I’m reminded time and again that attachment transcendence begins not with metacognitive epiphany, nor patient acceptance, nor curious inquiry, nor compassionate self-talk. The true jumping off point is non-semantic, non-procedural: total abdication. Transcendence is predicated upon ultimate epistemological humility. It starts with “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know” isn’t a declaration, rather it’s a confession, an empty insight. When I’ve given up on the help-self action plan, the “mindful” interior arbitration, the present story, then the real inquiry begins. It is only when I am at peace with my unknowingness that I can begin to know.
Only then can I ask my favorite question: “What if this were a gift?2 What if I can assume nothing of this conscious-content other than its essential goodness?” If there is a panacea for psychic turbulence, it’s this question. It reliably transforms my mindset into something fresh: I really don’t have a clue what’s going on here, and that’s exciting; there’s probably an opportunity lurking. Now I can excavate, now I can discover.
My current upset has gifted me this reflection, this writing. It’s helped me unveil my own unveiling. Someday I will forget everything I know, everything and everyone I need. There I will find the center.
Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience, a kind-of-scientific term for garden-variety spiritual enlightenment.