Attachment and the Root of Security


Attachment and the Root of Security

by Jamal Granick, Ph.D.

 

The subject of the 2018 annual 40 Days: Alchemy of Tranquility retreat was “the root of security.” At a time when national and global political, economic, environmental, human rights, and social justice conditions are increasingly chaotic, people are unsure how to find security in day to day existence.

 

Psychology suggests that the foundation of security is an internal state that does not depend on changing conditions. Contemporary theory looks to the security of earliest relationship, particularly with the primary caregiver, as the basis of this capacity for “self-regulation,” which is understood as the capacity to manage one’s emotions and behavior even when under duress in adverse circumstances. The assumption is that depending on the quality of the caregiver-infant bond, the internalized memory of this becomes a template for future relationships and shapes one’s self-image and expectations of others and the world. Based on the research of the 20th Century psychologist John Bowlby (1988), Attachment Theory asserts that optimal bonding provides a “secure base” for healthy human development. Hence, from this perspective, the word “attachment” has acquired a positive valence representing the potential for positive, life-affirming, supportive relationships.

 

From the perspective of many spiritual traditions, the word “attachment” is often used to indicate that which binds us to an illusory world that distracts us from knowing reality and our true identity. It is dangerous to compare terms from different disciplines without fully investigating their situated contexts, however the apparent discrepancy in the meanings to the two uses of this term “attachment” may represent something more significant that a simple semantic difference. There may be something to be gained from looking beyond the term itself and explore more deeply the embedded assumptions each context carries.

 

When psychology suggests that we internalize our early relationships, it means that we represent them within our memories. Long before we develop the cognitive capacity to create a narrative representation of our lives, we are laying down impressions as images, body sensations, emotional states, patterns of movement, and anticipated responses from our environment on deep, pre-verbal level that we carry forward with us through life, largely out of awareness. According to attachment theory, this collection of impressions, taken together, constitutes a person’s core sense of self. As development proceeds, and the capacity for cognitive symbolization is acquired, this felt sense is the foundation for the accumulated experiences, beliefs, and stories that form what is taken to be one’s identity. In this way, internalization becomes identification.

 

We hold on to our identifications as the supportive structures that enable us to effectively move through the world. In fact, we are attached to these images and the belief that they represent who we are. While this is not only helpful, but perhaps necessary, for functioning in a world of objects and others, it may be unnecessarily limiting. Our identifications depend on our memories, which are, by definition conditioned (Granick, 2018). That which is conditioned is conditional, hence inherently insecure.

 

At the retreat, another source of identity, which is beyond our conditioned experience, was offered. According to the teachings of Sufi Master Shah Nazar Seyyed Dr. Ali Kianfar, we can operate from one of two “magnetic” centers, the mind or the heart. The mind, along with the nervous system, engages with the world through the senses. All of the experience that we derive from this way comprises our mental life, which includes both our “narrative” – the story we construct from the acquired images retained in memory – and our emotions. To the extent that we are attached to our acquired identities, we are in reaction to the perceived outer world, including our relationships with others. In this reactive condition, we are at the effect of our emotional responses, leaving us unstable, unchangeable, and insecure.

 

The heart, which in Sufism is understood as much greater than only a physical organ or a figurative “seat of emotion,” is inherently connected with the source of our being which is unified with the source of existence itself. As Dr. Kianfar described it, rather than being at the effect of emotion, this center is “in motion,” harmoniously engaged with the movement of the universe itself. This connection between the heart and the Unity of being is innate, but requires of us that we make an internal shift in order to access it. When we make this shift then mind becomes the servant of heart and our relationships are not dependent on conditions.

 

When we hold onto our attachments, we remain in the realm of mind, attached to our acquired identities and living on the surface reality, distracted from the enormity and magnificence of Being. Relationships that are based on attachment, from this perspective, are transactions base on fulfilling emotional needs. When we shift to the heart, we have the potential to know our true identity. Dr. Kianfar suggests that when two people are centered in the heart there is the possibility of real communication, rather than emotional transaction based on attachment. This is the true definition friendship.

 

 

References

 

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base. New York: Basic Books

 

Granick, J. (2018). Unconditioned memory [to be published on SPF website]

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