In this groundbreaking work, don Miguel Ruiz Jr. writes that we have all unwittingly made agreements about how we choose to live our lives and what we believe our personal truths are.
But what we may not realize is that each one of these agreements represents an attachment, a limiting filter on who we think we are, and what the future could hold.
The Five Levels of Attachment are a measuring stick to understanding how tied you are to any particular belief, idea, or opinion.
Each level represents how controlled you are by your own particular way of thinking.
Armed with the awareness of which beliefs and ideas you are most attached to, you can better navigate the recurring situations in your life that cause you suffering and release any unhealthy beliefs that are no longer serving you.
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Please allow me to explain the 5 Levels of Attachment using the analogy of soccer (or football, as it is known almost everywhere outside the United States). You don’t actually have to like soccer or even sports in general to get this analogy. In fact, you might even discover that not liking sports enhances your understanding of the concept.
On the other hand, you might see an accurate reflection of your own level of attachment to a game or a team or recognize these examples in the people around you. Remember, you can apply the meaning behind this analogy to any situation you have in your life.
Imagine that you like soccer, and you are sitting in a soccer stadium watching a game. It could be a magnificent stadium or a dirt-filled field. The players could be great or mediocre. You are not rooting for or against a side. It doesn’t matter who is playing. You simply enjoy watching the game for what it is. The players could even be kicking around a tin can, and you would still enjoy the ups and downs of the sport! The moment the referee blows the whistle that ends the game—win or lose—you leave the game behind. You walk out of the stadium and continue on with your life.
At Level One, you are pure conciousness, and you enjoy a moment in time without any real attachment. You invested just enough of yourself to choose to watch the game. You experienced the purest form of joy, stemming from your pure desire to experience life without conditions.
This time, you attend a game—again, at any stadium in the world, with any teams playing—but now you choose to root for one of the teams. You’ve realized that if you invest a little more of yourself by identifying a preference, the emotional roller coaster makes the game more exciting. You could decide which team to root for based on just about anything—from the color of the uniforms to the names of the players. Perhaps you simply pick the home team. You spend the game rooting for one team, but not necessarily against the other. And when the game is over, just like at level one, you walk out of the stadium and leave it all behind you. At this level, you’ve invested a small piece of yourself in the game for a brief moment in time. You formed an attachment to something, however arbitrary, and based your decisions and actions on that attachment. You have engaged in a preference for a team, but only for the period of the game.
You created a story of victory or defeat that shaped the experience, but the story had nothing to do with you personally, because the story was about the team. You engaged with the event and the people around you, but at the end of the game, you simply say, “That was fun,” and let go of the attachment. This ability to attach and detach easily allows you to invest an emotional side of yourself that will enjoy the ups and downs of a great game.
Life is happening, and you are able to share it with those around you, regardless of how they see themselves.
This time, you go to see a game, but you are now a committed fan of a particular team. Their colors strike an emotional chord inside of you. When the referee blows the whistle, the result of the game affects you on an emotional level. This is your favorite team. You can still go to any stadium or field in the world, but nothing compares to seeing this team play. Your team, winning or losing, partially defines your character beyond the ninety minutes of the game. You feel elated when your team wins; when your team loses, you feel disappointed. But still, your team’s performance is not a condition of your own self-acceptance. And if your team loses, you’re able to accept the defeat as you congratulate the other side. You accept the victories and disappointments as part of the emotional roller coaster that makes life interesting, but your self-worth is not based on these outcomes. If you meet a fan of the opposing team, you see not only a fan of soccer but also a fellow human being with whom you are willing to share a beer. You can sit together and discuss soccer and you can talk about how great you think your team is. You might even admit that you think their team is great as well. Your feelings and opinions surrounding your team are not a condition by which you relate to other or to yourself.
But it as at level three that your attachment to your team begins to impact your personal life outside the stadium gates, as you now relate to the world as a “fan.” The separation isn’t quite as clear as it was at first. At Level Three, this culture, this team, has become a small part of your identity. When the event or moment passes, it still forms who you think you are. You take the knowledge with you and begin to shape parts of your life around this team, bringing it to other environments that have nothing to do with it. For example, if your team loses, you might have a bad day at work, argue with someone about what or who is responsible for the team losing, or feel sad long after the game is over, despite the other good things going on around you.
No matter what the effect is, you’ve let an attachment change your persona. Your attachment bleeds into a world that has nothing to do with it.
At Level Four, your association with your favorite team has now become an intrinsic part of your identity. The story of victory and defeat is now about you. Your team’s performance affects your self-worth and your own self-acceptance. When reading the stats, you admonish players for making us look bad. If the opponent team wins, you get angry that they beat you. You feel disconsolate when your team loses, and may even create excuses for the defeat. Of course you would never sit down with a fan of an opponent in a pub for a friendly chat! You might even find yourself consumed with finding out more information about the players. On the other hand, each and every word of praise your team earns feels as though it is directed at you. Not only have you brought the game home, you have completely incorporated it into your persona, shaping your identity by your belief of what it means to be a “real fan.”
Although in reality this team has nothing to do with who you really are, your self-importance and self-acceptance correlates with your attachment. The difference between your real life and your attachment are so blurred that everything starts to revolve around this team. With a Level Four attachment, you begin demanding ceratin behaviours of fellow fans based on your interpretation and definition of what it means to be a real fan. And if others don’t live up to your standards, you insist they should either change or depart. Furthermore, you will raise the subject of soccer with others and argue that your team is the best. You automatically believe that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong. This is the point where the belief has moved from an identity to internalization. When dealing with the fans of opposing teams, you will argue and shout, but it will stop short of fisticuffs. You can still limit your defense to just arguing. While you may allow some friends in your life who are not soccer fans, you much prefer the company of those who think like you. As your attachment grows, you might make your loyalty to this team a condition by which you allow others to be in a relationship with you, including yourself.
In other words, you have internalized your attachment to such an extent that it has become a condition of self-acceptance. Thus, you begin to impose this image onto the people you love as well as the people you interact with in your everyday life.
At Level Five, you worship your team! Your blood bleeds their colors! If you see an opposing team’s fan, they are automatically your enemy, because this shield must be defended! This is your land, and others must be subjugated so that they, too, can see that your team is the real team; others are just frauds. What happens on the field says everything about you. Winning championships makes you a better person, and there is always a conspiracy theory that allows you to never accept a loss as legitimate.
There is no longer a separation between you and your attachment of any kind. You are committed to your team through and through, a fan 365 days a year. Your insist that your family must also be fans of your team. If any of your kids become a fan of an opposing team, you will disinherit them.
At Level Five, your family can easily be torn apart and destroyed if any one of you turns your back on the team. Relationships mean nothing to you unless they are a believer in your team. Every action you take, every decision you make, is within the rules by which you think make a great fan. Of course, you can’t see anything from the point of view of someone who does not share your love of your team. If you do, you would be considered a traitor by your own standards.
At Levels Three and Four you may still have friends who do not like soccer, but at Level Five you don’t waste your time with people who don’t love the sport. They do not know better. You choose not to have them in your life, and you are willing to fight for what you believe in. Your belief becomes more important than the experience.
As your attachment grows, it can reach a culminating point where respect is lost even for humanity. In your eyes, a true fan is willing to die and kill for his team. It doesn’t even matter if the referee blows the whistle to start or end the game. It doesn’t even matter if they play soccer. The symbol and the colors are more important than your own life or anyone else’s life.
If you are having difficulty relating to the sports analogy at this level of attachment, let me conclude with two real-life examples. At the end of one soccer season in Europe, a big name club was relegated into the second division, a lesser division. After witnessing that team’s final loss, a fan went home and hung himself. For him, life was no longer worth living if his team wasn’t in the Premier League. In another instance, a bus driver was a fan of a team that lost the Champions League final. He was so upset by this that he drove his bus into a group of people wearing the winning team’s jersey. Four people died for wearing the “wrong” colors. This man’s attachment to his team was so great he killed for it.
Fortunately, murder and suicide due to a favorite team’s loss are rare occurrences. But when we turn to topics such as religion, politics, or our ideas about money, sex, and power, the examples of attachment at this level are numerous. Turn on any news station and it’s easy to see confirmation of this. It’s important to realize that when we, or anyone else, become attached to a set of beliefs at this level, it is easy not to see the humanity of an individual since we can only see the personalization of an idea that we stand against.
At Level One, you can go to any church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or drum circle, and you will find and feel the love and grace of God. At Level Five, God just happens to be the focus of devotion that the religion is centered on; in other words, the religion is more important than God. Apply the levels to race or ethnicity or sexual orientation. Apply it to love. The Five Levels of Attachment can be applied to any form of information, and suddenly the consequences become far less trivial.
While this soccer analogy is a good introduction to the Five Levels of Attachment because it breaks down the concept into fairly understandable parts, the purpose is for you to see how the levels play out in your own life situations, and what you can do to let go of your attachments. As I explain the levels in detail in my book, The Five Levels of Attachment, you will begin to think about how attached you are to your various beliefs. You will learn how to assess what level you are on for every belief that you have—not as a basis for judgment, but rather to perceive a deeper understanding of self. The goal is to shift your perspective and see the potential that is present beyond your beliefs, and notice how your understanding of love and respect changes as your attachments’ hold on you diminishes.
I invite you to join me on the journey.
don Miguel Ruiz Jr.
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