When I was a child, the neighbors once left go on vacation and left their dog with us. The dog was very depressed and did not even eat for a day, until my mother figured out that if she said the name of his owner, his ears went up and he would cheer up a bit. Eventually, with enough repetition, he started eating. I suspect dogs brains are similar to people's brains who have insecure ambivalent attachment style (aka anxious preoccupied)*. Cats on the other hand are less needing of attachment. They are repulsed when someone needs connection from them. They are more going with the flow and seem to have a connection to an inner source. Their brains might be more similar to people with insecure avoidant attachment**. I’m more like the dog and I suffer similarly when I get abandoned in a romantic relationship.
The word attachment has negative connotations in modern western culture (and in some ancient eastern ones). Taken to an extreme, it connotes lack of freedom, an infantile mother projection, and an inability to function without the person one is attached to. We can think of attachment in less extreme forms. Though attachment does originate during infancy and childhood, we later as adults tend to pattern our relationship to our lovers after those early imprints. Forming secure attachments is the golden standard of mental health, and it just means enjoying our partners, caring about their well being, supporting, loving and being inspired (to function in and love the rest of the world) by them, feeling secure in the relationship. The other attachment styles can lead to trouble, but they are workable if people understand each other, commit to the relationship, and follow certain protocols outlined in (for example, not limited to) Wired for Love, by Stan Tatkin. The problem with modern romantic relationship is not avoidant or anxious attachment styles, but ideology. Let me explain.
Rumi was a Persian Sufi mystic around the middle ages. He fell in love with another mystic by the name of Shams. At some point Shams left unexpectedly and could not be found again, and Rumi was devastated. The way he found to cope with this loss was to convince himself that what he loved about Shams can be found in himself, and what was in himself was the pure Essence of God. I suspect Rumi had either a secure attachment style or an insecure ambivalent one*, because people with insecure avoidant attachment do not get devastated so much by abandonment.
On the other hand, insecurely avoidants learned to deal with their initial abandonment by their caretakers by developing a tough exterior and not trusting people for romantic relationships. They are able to substitute other kinds of relationships, such as with pets or children (much less potential for abandonment by pets of children, at least until the children are grown up), or constantly find something to amuse, distract or consume so that they don’t have to face that primal human fear of being alone, and that primal human need of transcending one’s ego, which according to Erich Fromm, only mature love can fulfill. They might get into BDSM, they might transcend their ego with transcendental meditation, entheogens, or they might find anonymity in a crowd (none of which, in my opinion is a substitute for intimacy with a romantic partner, though they can help as coping strategy for dealing with abandonment trauma). They might even have a short erotic fling, but as soon as intimacy is asked of them, they run and abandon. The grief and abandonment trauma was just unbearable and the ideology that Rumi found and passed to future generations is a way forward for coping with abandonment. Supposedly even people with secure attachment can experience abandonment trauma as adults, because of the sting of betrayal and sudden loss of security, so the strategy of believing that we can get all our security, love and belonging needs from an internal source helps everyone avoid having to deal with abandonment trauma, since the internal source will never abandon us, unlike real people, who can be flighty, unreliable and definitely mortal. Also, the strategy of surrender to the internal source might alleviate the burden of having to make hard choices, or choices that conflict with others' since Source or Spirit will do it for us. In addition, the ideology Rumi and other mystics developed sees it as unholy/blasphemous to not be whole within oneself, since God is whole and God is within, so not being whole in that view just means being disconnected from the inner God. And so looking to others to complete us and fill our holes is frowned upon. But wait, we’re not talking about character defects that need completing. We’re talking about complementarity and specialization so we emerge as a whole couple, family, tribe or team that is more than the sum of the parts. Is that so terrible and worthy of scorn to the (ironically) non-dual yogini?
One of the greatest fears of humans is being alone. Given that humans (and other primates) evolved in tribes where interdependence meant survival and that humans (and other apes) are born needing adults to take care of them and form attachments to these adults in order to survive, that much of the neural circuitry of sexual bonding uses the same circuitry of infant mother bonding, and that evolution wants us to find mates in order to survive as a species, this fear of being alone makes sense. Given also that confidence is sexy and terror is not, it also makes sense then, that the strategy of finding peace (and abating the primal terror of being alone by showing the believer that he is not actually alone) and joy through a belief and an experience of an inner Source will spread far and wide. Also, such a belief would make the believer more apt to make wise choices in a mate, coming from a place of calm instead of terror. And also it makes sense from an attachment theory perspective that once one has a child, the fear of being alone can abate, if one can form a secure attachment with the child.
Perhaps many monks also have trouble making attachments to lovers and instead find it easier to latch onto buddhist philosophy, where attachment to anything (except buddhist philosophy) is frowned upon. Well, except maybe most buddhists only think that attachment to stuff is a problem, because most people do make attachments to people, especially friends and family. So is Buddhism with its non-attachment to the world and striving towards the non-dual consciousnsess just a coping strategy, or is there some truth to it? And if there is some truth, how much and how far does one take non-attachment to the world, and communing with Source?
I don’t know the answer. I would love it if there were a benevolent ground of being that allowed us to transcend our egos, but it doesn’t seem like a way to live except for monks and nuns. The best solution we have found to alleviating our fear of being alone and our need to transcend our egos is love, whether romantic (and particular), for friends, for the earth, for children and for animals.
The vision of both the eastern and western mystics is beautiful. To renounce all the superficiality, pretense, and violence of the world and find within a presence peaceful, vibrant, nourishing and deep. And from that inner place of peace and joy to reach outward again and love and inspire people. In this vision, we are like waves upon the loving ocean of consciousness, all connected underneath. Or like windows letting in the light of the sun (consciousness). The ocean/sun alone is permanent, the waves/windows are transient. It makes no sense to form attachments to one's wave/window or other people's waves/windows because this causes suffering when that attachment is inevitably severed with time. Instead, one focuses on the ocean and presumably this creates experiences of peace and joy, although the ultimate sustainable bliss of samadhi is something most can only strive for, or only get glimpses of.
Another metaphor expressing this vision is that we are like parts of one body, and hurting any one part hurts us in return. This is thus not only a personal vision, but a vision for a peaceful and harmonious society.
But how far does one take this? If we can be whole within ourselves by connecting with the Source, why should we join with others in couples, families, tribes, companies? Why bother if they are the same as us, whole within themselves, when we can connect directly to the source through meditation, yoga, and entheogens and skip the "middleman"? Why would ants and bees specialize and form colonies and hives? Why do we form symbiotic relationships with other species? Why would trees form symbiotic relationships with fungi and each other? Why would our cells specialize to form our bodies? The mystics' can answer only the first question, and only transactionally: the lover is only useful as a mirror in the spiritual journey, and the only love worth anything is the love of God. Perhaps some mystics might concede that this love of God can be experienced THROUGH the lover. Here again, extremism is not our friend. The word “hole” sounds terrible as applied to a person, connoting a disgusting deficiency. We might instead view holes as needs that can best be expressed with the help of a lover, a child, good work, a parent, or a friend, even though we might sometimes find weak substitutes to express these needs.
Try telling a woman whose clock is ticking in her fourties that she should be content to love her inner child or Source, rather than attempt to bear and love a child that she has created in her womb? But it’s OK to tell a heterosexual man that his evolved drive to want to express his power by loving a woman, by giving of himself fully to her, sometimes to the point of sacrificing his needs or even his life, is a pathlogy, and instead he should love his inner child or get in touch with his inner God/Essence/Presence/Source? No wonder so many men turn to war and other forms of violence. Or a few pretend like they are beyond all desire and need for a woman, like good boys, so they can fit into the ideological herd and be acceptable as a mate to the new ideologues of love. Poor Rumi had no idea what he was creating.
Why hasn’t this ideology taken off and become popular till now? I think it’s because it’s a perfect bedfellow for global capitalism, which selects for individuals who need it more than each other, thus ultimately destroying tribes, villages, and even families and romantic relationships. Profit is maximized if nobody shares and if everyone is utterly dependent on the global corporation. Talk about co-dependence***...
So there are psychological and social advantages to this philosophy, but there are also some ethical issues/contradictions and perhaps also some psychological disadvantages. Let's start with the ethical issues: Could the monks and nuns who can devote much of their time to meditation and inner work still do it if they weren't being supported by people who produce much of what they need to live, and who do not seem to latch onto this philosophy? In modern times could the people who use money to pay for servants to provide for their basic needs while they meditate, do yoga and have mystical visions doing entheogens, still do these things without the servants or without the money? So in a twist of Animal Farm, we are all One, but some of us are more able to experience our Oneness (the ones with more money and power)
Hypocrisy is also an ethical disadvantage. Those with insecure avoidant attachment style are obsessed with setting boundaries, meaning having to constantly explain to other people what they need for them to do and not do in order for their needs to be satisfied (perhaps because their boundaries were violated at an early age), but are usually not willing to even in principle meet a lover's expressed needs because that would be "co-dependent"***, and the lover better learn how to go with the flow, and be one with the moment (but when the lover does something they don’t like, they are not willing to be in the flow and accept “what is”, they get triggered). Also, take away their kids or pets and see how enlightened and in the moment and one with the universe they remain.
Another disadvantage happens when avoidant and ambivalent people get together as lovers and the avoidant people decide to abandon the relationship even if they committed to it. The avoidant lovers do not understand that for those with insecure ambivalent attachment there is nothing that can truly substitute for the lover, that the lover is not about providing everything, all the meaning and love and inspiration. That would truly be too much to expect from any human. No, the lover is providing some inspiration, some security and most of all an altar for one's love to be expressed in the flesh and in action. The lover (and work and nature and other friends) can be a gateway to the divine for the ambivalently or securely attached person, an all too human gateway, loved for being human and not perfect. The avoidant people do not realize the devastation they leave in their wake when they abandon the ambivalent or secure person because they have adopted an ideology where the only thing that matters is a connection to the divine and the middleman is superfluous and too much trouble. I wonder if the avoidant people had dealt with their childhood abandonment trauma (and other possible traumas) if they would have acted differently and not needed to establish their boundaries by abandoning their lovers. It is hard to imagine for me that a benevolent Source would leave a trail of devastation for some people who are trying to express love, due to their lovers needing to connect with Source, unless this source was vindictive and jealous.
Ironically the mystics were all about dissolving the boundaries between all beings and connecting through the underlying ocean, but we need boundaries to form individuals, couples, families, tribes, teams. The boundaries are at the highest levels not just the individuals. The couple needs a boundary to function well as a couple, the family needs a boundary to function well as a family and so on. This how life happens. Connections between parts that form wholes happen because they allow parts to accomplish things that were previously impossible. New boundaries form around the new wholes, and the old boundaries of the parts become looser, while still keeping the integrity of the lower level parts. There is less internal competition (between parts) and new competition between the wholes.
Also ironically the avoidantly attached people who must constantly assert their boundaries do not know the deepest human bliss of connecting to another human being in a vulnerable and open way. They have thrown out the baby of deep human connection and attachment with the bathwater of deep human pain when getting attached to a lover whom one must ultimately lose (and disagree with, which apparently can be devastating for some). This is a fundamental difference also between east and west. The eastern mystics have thrown out all attachment, whereas the western mystics recognize that though there is suffering when attachment ends, there is also resurrection and bliss when attachments can form again. As Khalil Gibran said in The Prophet: But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
How did we go from connecting to everyone with love, to not needing a romantic partner? Or believing that romantic love is but a pale shadow of the love of God? Is it a form of extremism? Between the two claims of "Romantic Love is a shadow of love of God", and "Love of God is a strategy for coping with loss of romantic love or fear of intimacy with an adult human" maybe the truth lies.
* Insecure avoidant attachment is something that happens to infants and sets the stage for adult patterns of relating to others. Their care providers as infants either were not available enough to take care of them, or did it in a way that was painful or unsafe.
** Insecure Ambivalent attachment supposedly happens when one's caretakers during infancy are sometimes present and sometimes absent, or sometimes able to meet needs, and sometimes not.
*** Co-dependence was initially about people who are not able to attend to their own needs and understand their own motivations and instead immerse themselves in a lover's needs. Especially when the lover seems to need rescuing because they are addicted to something. Expressing one's needs clearly to a lover and recognizing that those needs can only be met by the lover is a mark of self knowledge, the opposite of co-dependence. There is also a difference between expecting a lover to meet all of one's needs (for meaning, safety, pleasure, collaboration, etc)