Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson


          I have learned that there are many sources of misery and suffering in this world. It seems that every belief system has its pet theory. Buddhists believe that desire causes all suffering. Other religions claim separation from God (sin) causes suffering. Others believe that rejection of what is happening at any given moment causes suffering. Yet still others claim that fear causes suffering.  I offer the case of sentimentality as a major cause of suffering.

          When I say suffering and misery, I am referring to mental and emotional suffering. Physical pain as the result of physical trauma is unavoidable and actually the sign of healing. Mental and emotional suffering is the result of emotional trauma. While mental and emotional suffering cannot be seen, it certainly can be felt and often causes physical symptoms such as depression, illness and chronic conditions.

          Sentimentality is the result of attachment. We can be sentimental about people, things and ideas. This is often confused with love, and causes all kinds of emotional trauma when the object of the sentimentality changes. When we become attached to something or someone, we do not want to lose it. When we do lose it, and we always will because that is the way of this world, we suffer. It requires a higher level of consciousness and enlightenment to understand that everything changes; including people, and what we once became attached to is only temporary.

          When we talk about sentimentality, the most obvious object of attachment is “our stuff”, especially money. We believe that our stuff brings us comfort, security and power. This is an illusion. Many times we learn in history that the wealthy and powerful die penniless and isolated. Lottery winners oftentimes lose their wealth and dreams of security. We can lose our most prized possessions and lose any hope of joy and happiness along with it. I once owned a large house that was fully furnished with valuable collectibles. A business colleague persuaded me to rent it to her daughter. The daughter was addicted to crack cocaine and stole every item of furniture and art to sell for her addiction. At first I was outraged, but later could realize that it was a tremendous gift to show me how I was sentimentally attached to “my stuff”. When I let go of the sentimentality, I stopped suffering.

          People are also a great source of suffering. I cannot begin to count the number of people I have met who pine for their “soul mate.”  Even others, thinking that they have found their soul mate, suffer tremendously when these objects of affection and sentimentality change or leave. Suffering is great when those we depend on for happiness and security do not behave like we want them to behave. Having been a divorce lawyer for many years, I have yet to meet someone who wants to divorce that “bitch” or “bastard” who did not attach some affection or sentimentality to the relationship. When someone we have sentimentally attached to dies, great is our grief and suffering. We do not understand that these are the rules and everyone dies. We attach great emotional pain to the fact that we have been abandoned by those we “loved.” Again, it takes a great deal of consciousness and enlightenment to accept the inevitable and rejoice when someone we love dies.

       Another object of sentimentality is our beliefs. What we believe in oftentimes is utter nonsense, but try to convince someone of that. I have often said to people that we can be right or we can be happy, it is difficult to be both. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell said “I will never die for my beliefs, I might be wrong.”  We attach to our beliefs and will defend them to the death, or at least until we are convinced that we are wrong. Unfortunately, the more we are attached to our beliefs, the more difficult it is to be happy. The great conundrum is whether this is true if we believe we are happy. That question really makes my head hurt.

          The key is to remember that happiness has nothing to do with any of the above. Happiness is the result of our connection to our higher self, our higher consciousness, spirit, source, creator, or God. It has nothing to do with what we own, our beliefs or our relationships. Happiness is a symptom of the ultimate realization that everything is an illusion so we might as well have fun. The way to happiness is to serve others, live simply, and be humble. If you have the bad karma to have lots of stuff, a relationship with your soul mate, or a set of well reasoned beliefs, best of luck with that. Sometimes it is our struggles, misery and suffering that brings us to the realization that it is all an illusion and distraction from our true purpose, which is to be of service.

          So the next time you are upset, miserable or suffering, look at what you may be sentimental about. Is it something you have lost or something you want and can’t have at this time? Fear is simply a symptom of being sentimental. Be aware of your sentimentality and it will change. Be aware of your beliefs and they will change. Be aware of who you are and you will change. What fun!

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson


         We are taught to care about everything. Another way of saying this is we are taught to be codependent. Codependency is a behavioral disorder that bases your feelings on how everyone else is feeling. If everyone else is happy, you can be happy. When someone you love is unhappy, then you immediately have to find a solution to this problem because you can’t be happy until they are happy. The key to being confident and strong is to not allow what is going on around you affect your happiness or journey. In other words, you have to learn how not to be attached to what is happening around you. Indeed, if we can transcend the attachments and codependency that we form with others we will experience a new freedom and joy that will radiate out and affect all who we interact with.

            Not caring and detachment does not mean lacking compassion. If someone is experiencing pain and suffering, we can have compassion for that person because we understand that is the human condition that we have transcended. We can give them comfort and support because that is our purpose in life, to help others. What we must stop doing is allowing other people to dictate how we feel about our life and ourselves. Have you ever had someone accuse you of “not caring”? “You don’t care about me” is the mantra of victim hood. When we “care” about someone, we tend to take responsibility for his or her happiness. That is not our job. Our job is to understand them and support them, and walk away if they persist in their victimhood and self-pity. Compassion has no attachments to their feelings or suffering, compassion understands everyone suffers and we can be kind.

            True freedom requires that we detach in the sense that we are above the melodrama. Developing the ability to control and manage our compassion without attachment is the essence of integrity. We tend to get sucked into other people’s problems that will distract us from being our greatest version of ourselves. Not caring allows us to be comfortable within ourselves and free to help or detach from whatever problems others are experiencing. When we detach from our compassion, we do not suffer. We only observe. In order to be truly happy, we have to detach from everyone else’s problems. Again, this does not mean that we don’t open our hearts and send them healing and love, or even offer to help them. What it means is that we do not let other’s problems affect our happiness or equanimity. I know that I have enough to do to master my emotions and deal with my own issues. I do not let other people’s issues cause me suffering. That may sound selfish or cold, but it is being realistic.

            One teacher shared with me that sentimentality causes more suffering than anything else. Sentimentality is being attached to everyone else’s pain. Sentimentality is wishing things were different, wishing things were like some half-remembered fantasy world that we build from the past. In order to be free, we have to have common sense and practicality in our lives. This requires detachment.

            Now admittedly, many people find caring terribly exciting. They are the first to come to the door with casseroles and tissues and will stay for hours commiserating and gossiping. Is that helpful? Probably for the short term, but we need to empower each other, not enable victimhood. Unless we are enlightened gurus or psychotherapists, most people have no business trying to cheer each other up. How can you cheer someone up if you are miserable yourself? So stop it. A compassionate being will come and hold space for someone is suffering. Just be.

            Ultimately, life is neutral, no adjectives required. It is our ego that wants to define, question, classify, control and manipulate. We have to allow life to happen, as it will, whether we care and try to control it, or not. When we stop caring, and detach, we can step back and enjoy life, rather than be controlled by it.