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Exploring Non-Attachment Across Religions

photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

COLUMN: In Everyday Life

by Michelle Welch, Phoenix

I love to read Patheos.com. The website is a compendium of religious information – from Catholic and Jewish to Pagan and Atheist. A wealth of definitions and dogma can be found, from basic tenets to in-depth discussions, but I especially enjoy reading the blogs. Practitioners of the different faiths come together to discuss their practice and report on things happening in their worlds. The Buddhist blogs are, of course, valuable to read, but the ones that most fascinate me are the Muslim and Mormon blogs.

Recently a Mormon blogger, Rosalynde Welch (no relation), posted a discussion that reminded me of nothing so much as the Buddhist idea of non-attachment, as I understand it. Modesty and the Imaginary Me is about the blogger’s experience with the Mormon ideal of modest dress, and specifically about the challenge she faced when the modesty ideal conflicted with her sense of self. She describes being a typical young woman in modern society, where supreme importance is placed on dressing in an attractive manner:

“But whether or not the outfits actually drew the desiring male gaze is entirely beside the point. The point is that in wearing them, I was feeding a fantasy of and for myself. I was gratifying the temptation to turn myself into images that lived in my mind, a temptation I knew was not good for me, was false to the deepest sources of my identity and power.”

The parallel to what I see in Buddhism is remarkable: we create a fantasy of ourselves that has little to do with reality, and our attachment to that fantasy keeps drawing us away from the truth. Welch goes on to describe how turning to a sense of modesty is, for her, a path of freedom from that attachment, one she must continually remind herself of:

“Yet the desire to colonize my mind with images and to identify deeply with those images is still real – often transferred onto my home or my children. I still call up modesty standards to help me make sense of and gently discipline those desires.

“And I still love sleeveless shirts. I bought an adorable polka-dot sleeveless top with a navy-blue peter-pan collar at Target last week. These is nothing inherently suggestive about it.It would look great on me. I see it in my closet every morning. I haven’t worn it. Modesty wakes me from my own fantasies of myself.”

I always try to focus on similarities between people rather than differences. (The differences between me and Mormonism are many, of course. As for sleeveless shirts, I finally learned to wear them after years of being afraid to, because I was attached to the idea that my arms were too ugly to bare, but that’s really just a superficial difference.) The idea of gentle discipline is a beautiful point of similarity, and its use in another religious tradition is a reminder of what a powerful practice it can be.

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