I’ve been enjoying a simple practice recently—observing the occurrence or absence of clinging. How do you recognize when the mind is relating to experience through grasping? What are the signs or indications?
Clinging to experiences of mind and body is such a habitual way of engaging with sensory contacts that attachment may go unnoticed until the clinging manifests in extreme reactions—such as blatant desire, resistance to change, grief due to loss.
The body and mind is the arena for grasping; and so it is also the arena for insight. The Buddhist tradition identifies the five aggregates of materiality, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness as the primary objects to contemplate in insight meditation (vipassana). These five aggregates are also called “the aggregates of clinging” because they are the basis for all attachment. But we are not living in a continuous state of clinging.
Notice a sensory experience such as hearing, seeing, or tasting, and look carefully to see if there is attachment in the process of knowing that contact. Is there desire or aversion toward the experience? Is there a longing to possess it, or to make it last? Do you rehearse conversations in which you are telling someone about it? Does attention lean into the feeling or away from it? Is there a sense of conceit or pride in having the experience? Did it trigger any worried thoughts, or planning scenarios?
We might be grasping the sight, the sound, or the taste; we might be reacting to the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that arises in conjunction with the sensory contact; the perception might trigger thoughts about past events or desired outcomes; we might in some way or other be conceiving of ourselves in the experience. Observe the occurrence of any clinging—or the absence of attachment.
Don’t struggle over attachment to sweet tastes, beautiful sights, or soothing sounds. The subtler layer of attachment is in the construction of the self in sensory contact. The heart of this observation lies in seeing how we sustain our self image, and maintain the basis for clinging through repeatedly conceiving of ourselves experience after experience, through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and most often, through thinking.
What should you do when you notice grasping? Most often the clear seeing is sufficient. Through clearly seeing the process of clinging, wisdom and letting go effortlessly replace the ignorance that fueled the attachment. Once in a while a decisive gesture of renunciation may be needed. But perhaps much of the time, clear seeing and mindful attention is all that we need to protect the mind from the suffering caused by attachment.