The true meaning of holding onto something: It's not what you hold onto, but why you do it

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Robert Maurer
@robertmaurer
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Grasping for something is as common as breathing. We tend to attach ourselves to the people we love and who play an important role in our life. We also cling to our most precious possessions. To the painful memories of the past. To social roles or to some characteristics that we believe define us. Negative thought patterns that we have developed over time. Unrealistic hopes and expectations. Bad habits and negative emotions that make us suffer unnecessarily.

However, this excessive attachment is the origin of suffering, according to Buddhist philosophy. “Most of our problems are due to our passionate desire and attachment to things that we misinterpret as enduring entities,” said the Dalai Lama. Therefore, understanding why we resist and learning to let go of those attachments is essential to achieving mental balance and happiness.



The definition of grasping that invites reflection

To understand the meaning of "grasp", we must go back to its etymological root. This word comes from the Latin ferrare, which means to garnish with iron or to bind with chains. Therefore, the original definition of grasping referred to holding onto something, possibly against his will or by resorting to force.

From a psychological point of view, grasping involves developing an excessive and obsessive attachment to something or someone, in order to completely lose perspective and objectivity. In fact, attachment ends up generating a stubborn posture and limited vision that leads us to maladaptive behaviors.

Why do we cling to something or someone?

Regardless of the things, people or goals we cling to, what's really important is understanding the hidden meaning behind the need to hold back. The key lies not in what we cling to, but in the psychological cause of excessive attachment. When we cling to something, we blindly believe that that bond will provide us with three things we all want:



1. Happiness. We believe that the person, thing or goal we cling to holds the key to our happiness, so if we lose it we fear the worst of catastrophes or believe we will feel extraordinarily unhappy. However, psychologists at Stanford University have shown that we are inaccurate when it comes to estimating the degree of happiness or discomfort that events can cause us. Therefore, it is likely that what we are clinging to will not make us truly happy and that its loss will not cause us as much pain as we suppose.

2. Security. A major cause of attachment is our resistance to change and fear of the unknown. Many times we cling to something simply because it is what we know and that feeling of familiarity gives us a certain security. That thing or person becomes the pillar that supports us, that makes us feel safe. We overlook the fact that absolutely everything can change at any moment because security is just an illusion.

3. Meaning. In other cases we cling to people, things or goals because we have allowed them to give meaning to our existence. We have probably built our lives around them in such a way that we feel disoriented if we lose what we cling to. In fact, it is a relatively common phenomenon that occurs in couple or parenting relationships, so one of the people orbits the other because it gives meaning to their life.

The consequences of holding on to something too much

When we cling to something or someone, our world becomes smaller and in many cases it begins to revolve around what we want to hold onto. The fear of losing what it cost us to conquer leads us to spend a great deal of time and energy holding it back, often falling into controlling and obsessive behaviors.



Curiously, this fear, anguish and worry about the possible loss, added to the controlling attitudes, can have the opposite effect and take away psychological oxygen from the other, causing him to distance himself, so we will get the opposite effect: we will lose him. Thus the act of grasping turns into pain and suffering, instead of giving us happiness and fulfillment.

Also, holding on to something is always a two-way street. After all, the "chains" we use to "hold back" something or someone imprison us too. As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart we still cling to something, we cannot be free ”. What we cling to submits and limits us.

To grasp is to forget that we cannot control all situations, that the world and people are constantly changing, and that we cannot always predict the results of actions. This generates a static and rigid vision of a reality that is constantly changing and makes us suffer doubly because we do not accept that universal truth. So we continually bump into the wall of reality, because we don't dare to let go of what hurts us.

How to stop holding on to something that hurts you?

Do this exercise: Take a coin in your hand and imagine that it represents the thing, person or goal you are attached to. Clench it in your fist and extend your arm with the palm of your hand facing the ground.

If you open your fist or loosen your hand, you will lose the coin. If you keep your arm straight and your fist closed for a long time, you will still lose the coin because you will tire of maintaining tension. The same happens in life. You hold on, but the more you hold, the more you get tired and get away from what you want.


The good news is that there is another possibility: to stop grabbing. You can part with the coin and keep it anyway. With your arm still extended, turn your fist upward. Open your hand and relax it. You will see that the coin is still there.


Learning to live is learning to let go. These are the tragedy and irony generated by our constant struggle to resist: not only is it impossible, but it causes us the same pain that we try to avoid. When we understand this, we will learn to stop grasping ourselves.

When we stop trying to own and control the world around us, we allow it the freedom to satisfy us without the power to destroy us. This is the secret of the Buddhist law of detachment. So letting go means letting in happiness and fulfillment.

Obviously, letting go is not a simple, one-off task, but a daily, moment-by-moment commitment, which involves changing the way we live and interact with everything we instinctively want to possess and hold.

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