Five Levels of Attachment {Discussion}


I was visiting my in-laws in January, and I happened across a new book that I read cover to cover in one sitting: The Five Levels of Attachment (not an affiliate link) by Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr., who is the son of Don Miguel Ruiz who wrote the book The Four Agreements that we have discussed here previously. The Five Levels of Attachment are tools for gauging how attached you are to your own point of view and also how open you are to other points of view, opinions, and possibilities.

Our point of view creates our reality. When we are stuck in our beliefs, our reality becomes rigid, stagnant, and oppressive. We become bound to our attachments because we have lost our ability to recognize that we have a choice to be free of them.

Have you ever found yourself locked in a spiral of thoughts that just seems like you can not escape? I can easily slip down that slope when judgement comes into the picture, and I can guarantee that there is no tougher judge than our own inner critics. A good quilting related example crops up fairly regularly: when a quilt I have made is put up to be juried into a quilt show, I am inviting judgment into my life. If a quilt is not selected for the show (*ahem*: #QuiltConReject), it is easy to extrapolate from the quilt not meeting criteria to ME not meeting criteria: “I am not good enough” or “modern enough” or “___(fill in the blank)__ enough”. Getting judging sheets back from a show on quilts is another great way to trigger this internal dialog.

Somehow, just the introduction of the idea that I have a strong attachment to my quilts and I can choose to remember that and therefore disengage my personal self from the quilt was amazingly eye opening and helpful for me. Clearly this is an example and I can think of many other life experiences to which I am more attached and needing help than quilts, but I hope you can see how powerful just the introduction of these ideas were to me and why I could not put the book down.

Of all the beliefs to detach from, this is the most important one: Let go of the attachment that you must obtain some image of perfection in order to be happy. And this isn’t only about appearances; it includes the way we think, the philosophy we follow, our spiritual pursuits, and our place in society. All these things are conditions upon which we accept ourselves. We think that in order to be worthy of our own love we must live up to the expectations we place on ourselves – but we need to realize that these expectations are the expression of our agreements, not of our true nature.

Recently, I have been clearly focusing on the idea that having a quilt I am proud enough of to submit to a quilt show is win enough. Anything that happens beyond that – a quilt being accepted into a show or beyond – is meant to be savored and enjoyed, but has no bearing at all on the fact that I was originally proud of that quilt (warts and all). Staying in that mindful place can be difficult and I definitely fall out of it, but I am working to cultivate that space and ideology as a more natural thought state.


The famous quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt also takes on a different meaning to me when viewed with this knowledge. I am the one who is constantly comparing myself, my work, my body, my quilts… and while I don’t think I can just stop doing that cold turkey, I have had some moderate success identifying that I am starting the judgment / comparison cycle. Once the cycle is noted, I have had moderate success choosing to stop. And that is a start.

This is all reminding me of the Wabi-Sabi concept I recently came across as well.

Thinking about these concepts does not mean that I will not continue to strive to better my quilting skills, or rip a seam to fix alignment that bothers me. I can still work on my craftsmanship, but I can choose to do it mindfully and without holding judgment on myself. It doesn’t reflect on the perfection of my own unique being if I have to rip a seam once (or twelve) times. If a quilt I make dose not get accepted into a quilt show, it does not mean I am less likable / lovable or not good enough as a human being.

Is the idea of attachment new or familiar to you? Does exploring your levels of attachment and openness to possibilities seem like it could free you from other quilting fears (color / fabric selection, quilting motif selection, etc.)?

A larger excerpt from the book which describes each of the 5 Levels of Attachment (The Authentic Self, Preference, Identity, Internalization, and Fanaticism) is given below for more detail, context, and those who are curious.


To start, I will describe the levels of attachment using a very simple analogy that allowed me to relate it to my life: soccer (or football, as it is known almost everywhere outside the United States). You don’t actually have to like sports 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.

Level One: The Authentic Self

Imagine that you like soccer, and you can go to a game at any stadium in the world. 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. As soon as you see a game, you sit, watch, and enjoy it for those ninety minutes. You simply enjoy watching the game for what it is. The players could even be kicking around a tin can, and you 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 this level, you can enjoy a moment in time without any real attachment. You invested just enough of yourself to choose to attend or watch the game. This is you in total control of knowledge. You experienced the purest form of joy, stemming from your pure desire to experience life without conditions.

Level Two: Preference

This time, you attend a game—again, at any stadium in the world, with any teams playing—but now you 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 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. Still, in the end, you walk out of the stadium and leave it all behind. At this level, you’ve invested a small piece of yourself in the game. 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.

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.

Level Three: Identity

This time, you are 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 others or to yourself.

At this level, your attachment to your team begins to impact your personal life outside the stadium gates as you 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 despite the 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.

Level Four: Internalization

Staying with our sports analogy, 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 selfworth. 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 one of their fans 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 the team—the “piece of knowledge” in this story—has nothing to do with you in reality, your selfimportance correlates with your attachment. Your life and your attachment are so blurred that everything starts to revolve around this team. Your fellow fans had better behave, too, because they all represent these colors, and these colors mean something: they have value in your life. They had better fit what it means to be a real fan. Otherwise, they shouldn’t call themselves one. You find yourself debating how much better your team is outside the context of the game. You 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 have some friends 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.

Level Five: Fanaticism

At this level, 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 a committed to your team through and through, a fan 365 days a year. Your family is going to wear the jersey, and they better be fans of your team. If any of your kids become a fan of an opposing team, you will disinherit them. Out! 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 that 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 did, 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.

Whenever we believe something without question, we are at risk for attachment at this most extreme level—and it can exist in the most unlikely places. 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. 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. Imagine spirituality, homeopathic remedies, or veganism. 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 soccer 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. As I explain the levels in detail in the ensuing chapters, 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 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. Lastly, as we move through these next chapters, keep in mind my grandmother’s question: “Is knowledge controlling you, or are you controlling knowledge?”

14 thoughts on “Five Levels of Attachment {Discussion}

  1. Margaret Sterry says:

    I enjoyed the article very much

  2. Cindy says:

    What a very thought provoking post. I have been known to use my seam ripper multiple times on a seam. But lately I have been approaching my quilting with a different attitude, it is what it is. I try not to worry if my points aren’t 100% there is a lot more to life than perfect points.

  3. Barbara says:

    When I read this what came to mind was the current election cycle. The animosity and discord that is so rampant is a perfect example of the author’s theory. Thanks for posting this Yvonne.

  4. Holy smokes Yvonne. So powerful and applicable to right here, right now. Thank you for being a voice of reason and using your gift as a quilter/maker to speak of weighty things.

  5. Good Morning Yvonne! I truly enjoyed reading and thinking about your post. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. tonijosews says:

    Yvonne, wow. Thank you! This is right on-topic in the life of my family right now, and I am going to buy the book this weekend.

  7. Lara B. says:

    Wow… that is so right on Yvonne! I ordered the book. The whole idea of levels of attachments is new to me, but oh so applicable. I have been trapped in some spiral thought processes for decades. Isn’t it terrible how we can become attached to thinking that is destructive to our selves? Thank you for being so open and sharing this with us… your willingness to put yourself out there helps me learn new things and grow and heal, as it must for many others too.
    The Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi is very healing as well. As I grow older, I have been working on my acceptance of transience and imperfection more and more.

  8. Darleen Sanford says:

    This is truly a wonderful post. It can apply to everything in our lives, including quilting to politics as Barbara stated. Thank you for sharing.

  9. springleafstudios says:

    The Four Agreements is one of my husband’s favorite books. Now I’m off to look into this one too. That very last statement has me thinking . . . “Is knowledge controlling you, or are you controlling knowledge?”

  10. carolegoldquilts says:

    Excellent post. The Roosevelt quote is going up on my wall.

  11. Sally says:

    Very interesting excerpt, many worrying deeper ways in which it affects our world today, but I had to smile as well, Harry is a fan of one particular football (soccer) team and he’s definitely well into Level 3, they lost on Saturday in an important match against a team they supposedly shouldn’t have lost to, and he was ‘down’ the rest of Saturday and even slightly on Sunday – not a previously unheard of happening either! Whenever it happens I always try and persuade him that it’s just a game, it doesn’t really matter, it’s not actually affecting his life in any way…, and I never get anywhere convincing him, I’m just wondering what my chances are of getting him to read this excerpt! And if he does whether that would be more powerful than my words – I’m not overly optimistic on either count, but worth a try!

  12. Sandra says:

    Powerful, powerful stuff here Yvonne, and very à propos, in a most worrisome way, for the times. I can see this at a personal level and at a world level. I could go on about quilt shows, piano competitions, religious beliefs, the Detroit Lions with my family, (not so much me), but I won’t… just one of my own quilt show experiences, where I won Best in Show, an engraved plaque that I got to keep, but still felt I wasn’t really that good; it was in a smaller town, maybe not as stiff competition…why do we beat ourselves up in this way? I do think some of it in in our raising. But also, why is it that the Level 5 fanaticism has become so much more prominent these days? Are people’s lives that meaningless? Are they that unable to intrinsically find happiness and joy, but cultivate a certain detachment? (that detachment that yoga teaches, is really a tough one, but when I get flashes of that feeling, THEN, I feel pure joy). I will be picking up this book! Thanks!

  13. Kaja says:

    Another fantastic discussion post, Yvonne. There’s so much negative stuff that we do without even thinking about it; this is a good reminder that understanding our own thought processes and responses can help us to be happier with ourselves.

  14. Jasmine says:

    This is really interesting. I have always thought of it as “taking something personally,” but I can see how that is a form of attachment. Whether or not someone likes something like a quilt, doesn’t reflect on me. (At least that is my goal.)

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)