Long Reads, Science of Relationships
comments 3

Taking Refuge in the Family of Things

Illustration of person falling

—Exploring the Nature of Attachment—

To take refuge is to return home. Children come into this world needing to take refuge. All children. To be born onto this plane of existence is to experience the vulnerability of being a stranger in a strange land. Hence, during the first years of a child’s life, the primary context in which he or she can take refuge will be that of the child’s primary caregivers…. [B]ecause our first experience of need and of sangha is in our contact with our first caregivers, the quality of this connection will affect our every future perception of relationship, as well as our perception of the world as good or bad, safe or threatening. If enlightenment is indeed a capacity to experience the inherent intimacy of all things, then it becomes useful to discover how our earliest relationships either enhance or block this intimacy.

—Download full article below—

—Read Jessica Stern’s introduction to the special section here

The in-depth, long-read articles that we curate require a significant amount of volunteer labor on the part of our editorial staff. We hope that the gift of the author and the editors is of value to you, and we invite you to offer a gift in return to support our continued curation of articles.

For long reads, we suggest a donation of $5.00. If you are inspired and able to offer more, we encourage you to do so. If you cannot offer anything at this time, then please enjoy this article as a gift.


Suggested Donation

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $5

Download Article PDF: Taking Refuge in the Family of Things

Illustration by Alicia Brown


  1. Mark says

    Thank you for this wonderful essay, Kent. I found the audio of a dharma talk by Charlotte Joko Beck where she talks about the questions “how am I supposed to be?” and so on. Googling around for more info led me to your essay in The Arrow. (BTW, the dharma talk is on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klIo5-racvo – along with what appear to be other talks from the same sesshin.) Anyway, lately I’ve been wrestling with the questions is it even possible to fix myself through practice, to transcend that core pain from long ago…… or do I just let go of trying to fix a “self”? A lifetime’s practice. Deep bows,


  2. Wonderful to read, thank you! I found that I resonated with much of the article and am not surprised–the issues of attachment seem to be universally human, whether one is aware of them or not. I was quite stricken by the information that only 50% of the population made up the “securely attached” category. Socio-economic factors undoubtedly play a large role on the statistical side of things, but thinking more broadly I guess I’m wondering how America’s idolization of the “self-made success, lone wolf” archetypes might contribute to our culture’s attitude about human needs for attachment. Necessity for secure attachment and the vulnerability it creates become wrapped in the word of “dependency,” something negatively viewed as a weakness in our society. This stigma might contribute to our inability to talk about deep-seated insecurities and understand the very specific lens we experience the world through. The lens imprinted on us since birth which, “acquired and accepted without question, is the unconscious.”

    Of course, at the core of it is that dualism mindset so stated: “on one side is our denied pain and on the other are our protective strategies.” I for one have experienced several conscious attempts at dealing with pain in both ways, each time as a decision to cope in one way because the other way previously had failed. Flip-flopping between two strategies that were both equally as detrimental. What I truly resonated with then was the point that “Taking refuge is not a technique for stopping pain…It is a return to direct experience and an acceptance of what is, exactly as it is.” This and the subsequent paragraphs solidified the idea that “being with” pain as an act of awareness (as opposed to “facing” it as an act of aggression) leads to the dissipation of fear which can clear the way for self-reflection. Maybe that’s a little off-point, but the section did lead me there beautifully regardless.

    Just expanding once again to the cultural sphere, I wonder too how “the cult of the busy” has shaped our inability to “be with” pain. Both the constant need to be busy as well as the availability of mindless distraction seems to have become a defense mechanism of denial in itself. Maybe it’s even cyclic in some way: while busy we’re unaware of vulnerabilities needed to be felt. When things slow down, those vulnerabilities become uncovered and we find ourselves wanting busy-ness again to cover them back up.

    Thank you again for such an insightful and beautiful article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.