The concept of non-attachment is used in many spiritual practices, but you probably never thought it could have anything to do with maladaptive daydreaming. But believe it or not, there is a connection. How? Let’s look at why cultivating non-attachment is so important, and how you can apply this principle to controlling or even curing maladaptive daydreaming.
What is Non-attachment?
The principle of non-attachment comes from Buddhist philosophy, which centers on the concept of the Four Noble Truths. At its most basic, the Four Noble Truths teach that life is dukkha, the Pali word for “suffering” or “sorrow”. Dukkha also refers to things that are unsatisfying.1
At root of this suffering, according to the Four Noble Truths, is a craving for temporal and material things – things that are incapable of fully satisfying us. We chase these things out of a belief that they are separate from us and can somehow bring us wholenesss. The ultimate goal is to see through this illusion and avoid becoming overly attached to these things – in other words, maintain a state of non-attachment.1
Keep in mind, non-attachment isn’t the same as detachment. It doesn’t mean that we have to suppress all of our desires or ignore what’s happening in the world. Instead, we should keep ourselves from being consumed by these desires.1
Part of learning non-attachment is understanding the difference between wants and needs. There are a lot of things in life that we think we need but we really don’t. Our culture tells us that we need to upgrade our smartphone every year, or that we need more likes on social media. But the truth is, we don’t need these things to bring us happiness or make us feel complete.
How Maladaptive Daydreaming Creates Attachment
Of course, there is a lot more to understanding non-attachment than what I’ve described here. But for now, let’s focus on how this concept relates to maladaptive daydreaming.
For most of us with MD, daydreaming is more than a hobby. It’s practically an obsession. We live more than half of our waking lives in this parallel dimension, nurturing relationships with imaginary characters that will bear no fruit in the real world.
On it’s own, that level of creativity can be a beautiful thing. But when it comes to getting maladaptive daydreaming under control, it can be a massive roadblock. Why? When we put such a heavy emotional investment into daydreaming, we develop an attachment to it. We decieve ourselves into thinking that we need our MD to be happy, but this attachment is what creates so much suffering in our lives. It’s what’s behind our strained relationships, our failing grades, the countless missed opportunities.
But what’s at the root of this attachment? Fear. We’re afraid that by letting go of our daydreams, we’ll be unable to fulfill our needs. We fear that without our daydreams, our lives will be incomplete.
How to Use Non-attachment for Maladaptive Daydreaming
The good news is, we don’t have to separate ourselves from our daydreams. In fact, it’s impossible. They are an intimate part of us, and they will continue to be whether we choose to engage with them or not. They don’t give us life – we give them life. Any happiness we experience through daydreaming come from within us, and we can access it without needing to slip into a fantasy.
Becoming non-attached to daydreaming doesn’t mean that you have to give it up completely. It means learning how to step away from it when the real world demands your attention. It means that, when the situation requires it, you are able to say “no”.
Another important thing to remember is that our daydreams are not like material goods. They can’t they get lost, stolen, rusty, or worn out. They are timeless. That means that there’s no harm in taking a break from your dream world once in a while, because when you return, it will still be there waiting for you.
I know this sounds like a challenging task, and to a degree, it can be. It’s something that I struggled with for many years. But part of the problem came from having the wrong perception. I often treated my daydreams as an emotional life raft. I feared that if I didn’t clutch tightly to them, I would lose my source of happiness.
But when I stopped seeing them as separate from me, as things that could disappear if I didn’t hold onto them tightly enough, I became less reliant on them to make me happy. It became easier to turn the daydreaming off when I needed to.
Now, I think of daydreaming the same way as reading a book. We all know that closing a book doesn’t make the story disappear. It just means you’re putting it on hold to enjoy for later. Once you open the book again, the story continues right where you left off. Daydreams work in the exact same way.
Visualization Exercise: The Library
If you find it hard to take a break from your daydreaming, it helps to incorporate some sort of ritual to help you transition from one activity to the next. Visualization is an excellent way to accomplish this. Using this technique, you can create a scenario that symbolizes you setting aside your daydream until you can return to it at a later time. This will help you get into the proper state of mind when you need to work or study.
Here’s one exercise you can try:
- Take a moment to close your eyes. Take a few slow breaths, and allow your body and mind to relax.
- Picture yourself sitting in a room full of bookshelves. This could be an actual room in your house, an imaginary library, or any place of your choice. No matter what you choose, this your own private sanctuary. Allow yourself to experience feelings of safety and peace.
- Now imagine that you are holding an open book in your hands. This book represents the story of your daydream world: the characters, locations, and memories. Every experience you’ve had in this daydream lies within the pages of this book.
- Imagine your book in detail. Think about the cover, the spine, and pages. What does your book look and feel like? Is it smooth or rough? Heavy or light? Try to hold a clear picture of it in your mind.
- Next, take your book and close it shut. Then, take a few steps to the nearest bookshelf. Place the book in an empty space on the shelf. Here is where your book will remain, safe and sound, until you’re ready to take it out again.
- Now you can open your eyes, and continue with your day. At another time, when you’re ready to revisit your daydream, you can always return to your special library and remove the book from the bookshelf.
You can use any variation of this visualization, or make up a new one entirely. It’s up to you.
The reason that daydreaming causes so much grief in our lives is because we have an unhealthy attachment to it – we’re unwilling to let it go. But by practicing non-attachment, we can get maladaptive daydreaming under control. We’ll experience less stress and learn to relate to our daydreaming in a more natural, relaxed way. We learn to not rely on our daydreaming to make us happy, but instead cultivate our happiness from within.
How do you incorporate non-attachment in your life? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
 O’Brien, Barbara. “Why Do Buddhists Avoid Attachment?” About.com Religion & Spirituality. N.p., 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.