Long Reads, Science of Relationships
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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


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Download Article PDF: Taking Refuge in the Family of Things


Illustration by Alicia Brown

2 Comments

  1. 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!

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