This is a pre-print of an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Adult
Development (doi: 10.1007/s10804-018-09326-5).
The final authenticated version is directly available with no paywall online at
Growing by letting go: Nonattachment and mindfulness as qualities of advanced
Richard Whitehead*1, Glen Bates1 and Bradley Elphinstone1.
1Department of Psychology, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
*Richard Whitehead is the corresponding author. Please contact at
email@example.com (ph. +61 415918719)
Conflict of interest: The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.
Psychological development continues throughout adulthood, with some individuals reaching
advanced levels of adult psychological development. A focus of the present study was to
investigate the Buddhist construct of nonattachment in relation to three elements of advanced
psychological development: wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. The
possibility that nonattachment mediates the relationship of mindfulness to these aspects of
optimal psychological development was also investigated. Results from 348 university
students supported expectations that nonattachment was positively related to wisdom, self-
actualisation and self-transcendence and confirmed similar positive relationships for
mindfulness. In addition, nonattachment was found to act as a partial mediator of mindfulness
for all three aspects of advanced adult psychological development. Interestingly, an alternate
mediational pathway was discovered as mindfulness was shown to mediate the relationship of
nonattachment to measures of advanced psychological development. The results have
implications for understanding the different pathways towards developing wisdom, self-
actualisation and self-transcendence and provide insight into the possible mechanisms of
mindfulness and nonattachment that help to explain their positive impact.
A number of theories of adult development propose that people can continue growing
and developing across a range of areas of psychological functioning well into adult life
(Cook-Greuter, 2000; Levenson, Aldwin & Cupertino, 2001; Loevinger, 1976). The higher
stages of adult psychological development are believed to involve, “increasing flexibility,
conceptual complexity, and tolerance for ambiguity; recognition and acceptance of internal
contradictions; a broader and more complex understanding of the self, others, and the self in
relation to others” (Hartman & Zimberoff, 2008 p.3). These qualities accord with three well-
studied components of advanced psychological development; wisdom (Ardelt, 2008; Gluck,
Bluck, Baron & McAdams, 2005; Thomas, Bangen, Ardelt, Jeste, 2017), self-actualisation
(Maslow, 1962; Rogers, 1961) and self-transcendence (Levenson et al. 2001; Levenson,
Jennings, Aldwin & Shiraishi, 2005; Loevinger, 1976). Recent research suggests certain
practices aligned with Buddhist psychology may assist people in reaching such advanced
stages of growth and development (Hartman & Zimberoff, 2008). The present study
investigated two constructs within Buddhist psychology, nonattachment and mindfulness, in
terms of their alignment with the higher stages of psychological development. The present
study is the first to investigate whether nonattachment relates to wisdom, self-actualisation,
and self-transcendence. Further, as recent research suggests nonattachment may be a
mechanism of mindfulness (Sahdra, Ciarrochi & Parker, 2016), the present study also
investigated whether nonattachment mediates the impact of mindfulness on these indicators
of advanced psychological development.
Nonattachment, mindfulness and advanced psychological development
To understand the construct of nonattachment, it is important to define ‘attachment’,
as the term has different meanings in different disciplines. In psychology, attachment often
refers to attachment style, referencing a child’s attachment to the caregiver (see Bowlby,
1969; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978) or the quality and safety of a person’s
relationships as an adult (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). However, in the context of nonattachment,
attachment refers to the energy involved in clinging to experiences perceived as positive and
the avoidance of experiences perceived as negative (Altobello, 2009; Agarwal, 1992; Sahdra
et al., 2010). Nonattachment, therefore, involves an interaction with experience without
fixation or needing to control it though clinging or avoidance (Sahdra et al., 2010). The
quality of nonattachment is at the core of the Buddhist teachings (Gammage, 2006; Hanh,
1999; Thubten, 2009), is identified as an ideal quality to possess (Banth & Talwar, 2012;
Upadhyay & Vashishtha, 2014) and is associated with greater presence and maturity (Sahdra
et al., 2010).
In contrast, mindfulness results from an open, nonjudging awareness towards what is
unfolding in the field of consciousness as it occurs moment to moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003)
and represents one of the stages on the noble eight-fold path that is central to Buddhist
teachings (Dalai Lama, 1997). Some preliminary evidence suggests mindfulness is positively
associated with the optimal qualities of self-actualization (Beitel et al., 2014), wisdom
(Beaumont, 2011) and self-transcendence (Vago & Silbersweig, 2012), however, the precise
mechanisms of this relationship are unclear. Buddhist theory suggests that greater
mindfulness can allow an individual to develop greater insight into the transient nature of
reality and the futility of trying to control the ever-changing flow of experience, which in turn
builds nonattachment and reduces the negative impact that attachments have on an
individual’s quality of life (Dalai Lama, 1997, 2001). Accordingly, nonattachment has been
shown to mediate the positive impact of mindfulness in relation to life satisfaction, life
effectiveness (Sahdra et al., 2016) and ‘flourishing’ (Coffey, Fredrickson & Hartman, 2010).
Nonattachment and mindfulness are qualities developed over time that are both likely
to create the conditions that foster advanced psychological development. Although empirical
evidence exists for mindfulness in relation to advanced psychological development, no such
empirical evidence exists for nonattachment. Potentially, the more an individual learns,
grows and develops throughout their adult life and encounters major life experiences (e.g.,
losing a job, the break-up of a relationship), the more they learn the futility of attachments
aimed at trying to control experience (Sahdra et al.,2010). Letting go of impeding
attachments may facilitate a freedom and thriving in life, allowing individuals develop at
advanced levels. This is likely to include the development of wisdom, self-actualisation, and
Wisdom is a multifaceted construct (Ardelt, 2003; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Le, 2008)
seen as a sign of optimal development across all cultures and religions, despite its various
definitions and conceptualisations (Le, 2008, 2011). Within Buddhism, wisdom involves
understanding the interdependent nature of reality, the transience of all experience, and
understanding there is no way to truly hold on to any fixed experience (Dalai Lama, 2001;
Hanh, 1999, 2006). Within Western psychology, Ardelt (2003) conceptualised wisdom as a
developmental quality encapsulating three dimensions of: affective, cognitive and reflective
wisdom. These dimensions capture a selflessness and compassion for others (Ardelt, 2008);
a comprehension of life with deep meaning and significance, especially intra and
interpersonal matters (Ardelt, 2003; Thomas et al., 2017); and an unbiased, decentered view
of reality which acknowledges the existence of multiple perspectives (Thomas et al., 2017).
Wisdom develops across the lifespan (Ardelt, 2003; 2007; Bluck & Gluck, 2005;
Staudinger, 1999) by growing from life experiences (Bluck & Gluck, 2005; Mansfield,
McLean, & Lilgendahl, 2010). Learning from experience through careful reflexivity and an
ability to challenge one’s subjectivity and take on multiple perspectives, is believed to
produce wisdom and a greater understanding of the ambiguity and paradoxes in life (Ardelt,
2011). Wisdom is associated with greater emotional complexity, less emotional reactivity
and a greater propensity to see things from the bigger picture (Grossman, Gerlach, &
Within Buddhist literature, mindfulness is important in the development of wisdom
(Anālayo, 2010; Buchheld, 2001; Purser & Milillo, 2014). Mindfulness assists an individual
to witness experience without attaching to the apparent independent nature of existence and
develop wisdom into the ever-changing nature of things (Hanh, 1999). Accordingly,
Beaumont (2011) found that people with higher levels of mindfulness also had higher levels
of wisdom. Mindfulness was also positively associated with all three dimensions of Ardelt’s
(2003) three-dimensional wisdom scale (3D-WS); cognitive, affective and reflective wisdom.
Individuals with an open, present-centred awareness tended to understand the complexities
and ambiguities of experience (reflective wisdom), understand experience on a deeper level
(cognitive wisdom), and were less self-focused and more compassionate towards others
Nonattachment may also be strongly related to wisdom and may represent a
mechanism through which mindfulness impacts the development of wisdom. Nonattachment
involves an engagement with experience without fixation on specific beliefs and opinions that
may limit knowledge and understanding of the complexities and ambiguities in life. This is
highlighted in a speech by the Dalai Lama (2011):
“I am a Buddhist but I should not develop attachment to Buddhism, because once you
develop attachment to your faith, then your mind will become biased; then you can’t
see the value of other traditions.”
Letting go of attachment to certain views allows an individual to be open to other
perspectives and thus promotes greater understanding and wisdom.
The cognitive and reflective factors of wisdom highlight an individual’s ability to
engage with multiple perspectives and to understand life more deeply by building greater
self-awareness and self-insight (Ardelt, 2003, 2008). In contrast, being attached to
experience involves narrow fixation on experience being a specific way, and thus limits
awareness or insight beyond that which is fixated on. Wisdom arises when an individual can
be mindfully aware of the flow of experience without attachment (Hartman & Zimberoff,
2009). Nonattachment also appears to be related to the affective aspect of interpersonal
wisdom. Being more nonattached is associated with being more present in life and less
impacted by the fixation on self-related thoughts and feelings (Sahdra et al., 2010) which may
theoretically create a greater space for understanding and empathising with others (Sahdra et
al., 2015). Accordingly, nonattachment has been associated with greater empathy, peer-rated
kindness, and helpfulness (Sahdra et al., 2015), and greater relational harmony cultivated
through compassion (Wang et al., 2015). Theoretically, living without attachment allows a
flow of experience in which individuals can develop insight into the ambiguous and complex
nature of experience, contributing to a deeper understanding of life and greater understanding
and compassion towards others.
Self-actualisation is perhaps one of the most prominent theories of optimal adult
development (Bauer, Shwab & McAdams, 2011). Following the achievement of basic needs,
self-actualisation is defined as achievement of a person’s highest potential (Beaumont, 2009;
Jones & Crandall, 1986) and a movement from self-fixation towards selflessness and altruism
(D’Souza & Gurin, 2016). Maslow (1968) described self-actualizing individuals as having a
strong propensity to deeply understand and experience the self and others as existing
interdependently. Self-actualisers also display resistance to enculturation and engage with
ethical issues from multiple perspectives (Bauer et al., 2011; Maslow, 1970).
Some evidence suggests being more mindful is associated with greater self-
actualisation. Brown and Ryan (2003) found higher levels of mindfulness captured by an
open, present centred awareness, related to higher levels of self actualisation. measured by
the Measure of Actualization of Potential (MAP; Lefrancois, Leclerc, Dube, Hebert &
Gaulin, 1997). In a more comprehensive investigation, Beitel et al. (2014) reported that
higher mindfulness was associated with greater self-actualisation measured by the Short
Index of Self-Actualization (SISA; Jones & Crandall, 1986). They also found self-
actualisation to be related to three facets of mindfulness; acting with awareness, acting
without judgement, and describing, but not observing. These findings highlight that
mindfully attending to experience with concentration and acceptance are qualities aligned
with self-actualisation (Maslow, 1971). The specific mechanisms through which mindfulness
impacts self-actualisation may also be explained by the facilitation of nonattachment.
Nonattachment appears conceptually aligned with self-actualisation. Maslow (1954)
proposed that self-actualised people are autonomous, have a deep acceptance of reality and
are motivated by personal growth. They also demonstrate a potential to live in the moment
and to gain their sense of satisfaction from their own self, without being impacted by
unnecessary mental patterns such as guilt, shame and regret (see also Beitel et al., 2014).
Similarly, being highly nonattached can be characterised as ‘radical acceptance’, with guilt,
shame, and regrets being clear examples of attachments characterised by wanting experience
to be other than it is (Whitehead, Bates, Elphinstone, Yang & Murray, 2018). Both self-
actualised and nonattached individuals also display an ability to gain satisfaction internally,
rather than relying on outside circumstances. The well-being of nonattached individuals is
not contingent on the nature of their experiences or how they interact with their environment
(Coffey et al., 2010; Sahdra et al., 2010). It is therefore likely that individuals who have
attained higher levels of self-actualisation will also be more nonattached.
Self-transcendence is a core component in theories of advanced psychological
development (Ardelt, 2008; Bauer & Wayment, 2008; Cook-Greuter, 2000; Frankl, 1966;
Hartmann & Zimberoff, 2008; Manners & Durkin, 2000) and refers to moving beyond the
concerns of the individual self. People high in self-transcendence are less focused on self-
interest, have a more flexible self-construct, are less fixed on their own perspectives, and
have greater concern for others and life in general (Cook-Greuter, 2000; Levenson et al.,
2005). Similar to wisdom and self-actualisation, self-transcendence involves a greater
understanding of one’s own, and others’ implicit biases and the ability to act without the
influence of conditioned and unconscious tendencies (Le, 2011). Although originally
measured as a trait, Maslow (1971) saw self-transcendence as the highest stage of
development. To Maslow, it represented a quality that separated self-actualisers who focused
on fulfilling their own potential, from those who moved beyond the fulfillment of their own
self-focused needs and potentials (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Frankl (1966) also argued that, in
addition to self-actualizing and fulfilling one’s sense of meaning, people also have the
potential to transcend the concerns of an individual self.
Mindfulness and meditation have been identified as important factors in the pathway
towards self-transcendence (Cook-Greuter, 2000). Theoretically, being mindful of the flow
of experience assists the witnessing of the self from an objective space, allowing for insight
into the biases and egoic nature of the self, which can be a transcendent process (Epstein,
1988; Hartman & Zimberoff, 2008). In developing the Adult Self-Transcendence Inventory,
Levenson et al. (2005) found adult self-transcendence to be positively associated with
meditation experience. Individuals who meditated displayed higher levels of self
transcendence than non-meditators.
There is also neuroscientific evidence that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation
can affect levels of self-transcendence. Farb et al. (2007) found mindfulness-based
interventions could significantly reduce activity in areas of the brain associated with self-
reference. They discovered that those who had undergone training in mindfulness-based
stress reduction (MBSR) showed reduced activity in the brain during a self-referencing
exercise relative to those who had not undergone the course. Thus, exhibiting mindfulness
towards experience may indeed assist in uncovering the self-biases in unconscious thoughts
and actions (Anālayo, 2010; Vago & Sibersweig, 2014). The practice of mindfulness appears
to reduce self-focus and promote meta-awareness which in turn enables disengagement from
the self-referential narrative present in daily life (Holzel et al., 2014; Vago & Sibersweig,
2014). Through the reduction of self-referential processing and a more objective view of the
self (Holzel et al., 2011), increased mindfulness may facilitate a movement away from self-
focus and towards self-transcendence. It is also important to investigate the mechanisms of
this relationship and potentially, whether nonattachment is a mechanism through which
mindfulness allows an individual to move away from self-focus.
Although the relationship between nonattachment and self-transcendence has not been
investigated, the two show conceptual overlap. In Levenson et al.’s (2001) model of adult
development, the self is discussed as existing relative to attachments that can be transcended
through nonattachment and a greater understanding of the self (Ardelt, 2008; Levenson et al.,
2001). For self-transcenders, there is a movement away from a self-focus towards an other-
or universal-focus (Cook-Greuter, 2000; Hartman & Zimberoff, 2008; Vago & Silbersweig,
2012). The transcendence of self-focus through understanding the self and the unconscious
biases that impact experience (Le, 2011), allude to the importance of nonattachment in this
process of becoming aware of one’s own states and the workings of the ego. As the self is at
the centre of attachments (Chan, 2008; Levenson et al., 2001), letting go of attachments to
one’s self-serving biases allows transcendence by engendering a life not governed by self-
interest or self-focus. Nonattachment, therefore represents a process of letting go of
attachment to the separate static self (Hanh, 2006). Reducing the need for experience to be
one way or other also lessens the need to fixate on the self as being of utmost importance, or
being any way in particular. Without the self-fixation associated with attachment, an
individual can be more present and other-focused (Sahdra et al., 2015).
The present study
The present study investigated the relationships among mindfulness, nonattachment,
and the constructs of wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. As nonattachment
has been shown to mediate the positive impact of mindfulness on a range of variables (e.g.,
Sahdra et al., 2016; Whitehead et al., 2018), mediational analyses were also conducted. It
was hypothesised that nonattachment and mindfulness would be positively correlated to
wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence (Hypothesis 1) and that nonattachment
would at least partially mediate the relationships of mindfulness with each of wisdom, self-
actualization, and self-transcendence (Hypothesis 2).
Participants and procedure
The sample comprised 348 respondents (270 women & 78 men) ranging from 18 to
64 years (M = 34.29 SD = 11.33). The respondents predominantly identified as Anglo-
European (83.1%), followed by Asian (6.8%), Indian and sub-continent (2.5%), Middle
Eastern (2%), African (1.7%), New Zealander or Pacific Islander (1.7%) or other (2.2%).
Most respondents did not state any religious or spiritual affiliation (50.8%) or identified as
Christian (24.6%); 13.3% identified with a general, nonreligious spirituality, while 5.1%
identified with a contemplative tradition (i.e., Buddhism, Vedanta), 1.7% identified as
Muslim, 1% identified as Hindu and 3.1% other.
Participants were undergraduate psychology students at a mid-sized metropolitan
university in Australia who completed the study in exchange for course credit. It is also
important to note that the majority of participants were mature age, studying psychology
online, which increased the mean age in the sample. Students accessed an online
questionnaire and could complete the questionnaire in their own time. Data was collected
over a six-month period. All research conducted adhered to ethical guidelines and received
ethics clearance through the appropriate ethics committee.
Nonattachment. The 7-item Nonattachment Scale (NAS-7; Elphinstone, Sahdra, &
Ciarrochi, 2015; Sahdra et al., 2016) was taken from the larger 30-item nonattachment scale
(NAS; Sahdra et al., 2010). The seven items (e.g., “I can let go of regrets and feelings of
dissatisfaction about the past”) are rated on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (Strongly Disagree)
to 7 (Strongly Agree). The NAS-7 shows good reliability and validity when compared with
the original 30-item scale (Sahdra et al., 2016).
Mindfulness. The 20-item Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ; Baer et
al., 2006; Tran, Gluck & Nader, 2013) was used as it is considered to be the most
comprehensive measure of mindfulness (Sahdra et al., 2016). The five factors present in the
FFMQ are Observe, Awareness, Describe, Nonreactivity, and Nonjudgment. Items (e.g.,
“When I do things, my mind wanders off and I'm easily distracted”) are rated on a Likert
scale from 1 (Never or Very Rarely True) to 5 (Very Often or Always True).
Self-actualisation. The Short Index of Self-actualization (SISA; Jones & Crandall,
1986) is a 15-item widely used self-report measure derived from Shostrom’s (1964) Personal
Orientation Inventory. Items (e.g., “I believe that people are essentially good and can be
trusted”) are rated on a 4-point Likert Scale from 1(Agree) to 4 (Disagree).
Wisdom. The 12-Item Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS-12; Thomas et al.,
2017) is a recently developed abbreviated version of the larger three-dimensional wisdom
scale (3D-WS; Ardelt, 2003). The 3D-WS-12 has 12 items (e.g., “I can be comfortable with
all kinds of people”) rated on a scale from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree). The
3D-WS-12 and has shown good reliability and validity when measuring a higher order single
factor of wisdom (Thomas et al., 2017).
Self-transcendence. The self-transcendence subscale from the Adult Self-
Transcendence Inventory (ASTI; Levenson et al., 2005) is a 9-item measure of self-
transcendence. Items (e.g., “I do not become angry as easily”) are rated on a Likert scale from
1 (Disagree Strongly) to 4 (Agree Strongly). The ATSI is a well-established reliable and
valid measure of self-transcendence when assessing the construct as a process of adult
development (Le, 2011; Levenson et al., 2005).
The means, standard deviations, and internal consistency coefficients for all measures
are presented in Table 1. All means were within expected parameters and were normally
distributed. Although Cronbach’s Alpha was lower than ideal (< .80) for some measures,
Alphas were all .70 or above and determined to be good given the short length of the scales.
Means, Standard Deviations and Internal Reliability for Nonattachment, Mindfulness and
Wisdom, Self-actualisation and Self-transcendence.
N = 348, FFMQ = Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire
Relationships among the variables are shown in Table 2. As hypothesised
(Hypothesis 1), nonattachment and mindfulness were positively correlated with all measures
of optimal psychological development; wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence.
These correlations were all moderate-to-strong, with nonattachment and mindfulness also
showing a moderate positive correlation.
Intercorrelation among Nonattachment, Mindfulness, Wisdom, Self-actualisation and Self-
transcendence and Age.
N = 348, All relationships are significant at the p<.001 except 1 = significant at p<.05 and 2 = nonsignificant.
Mediation analyses were conducted using the ‘Process’ SPSS macro developed by
Preacher and Hayes (2013). All variables in the analyses were converted to z values to obtain
standardised effect sizes in which relative contributions can be compared. In each mediation
analysis greater mindfulness was associated with increased nonattachment (a path). The
results for the direct relationships between nonattachment and each advanced psychological
development variable (i.e., b path), the initial relationship between mindfulness and each
advanced psychological development (i.e., c path), and after the inclusion of nonattachment
(c’ path) are shown in Figure 1. To test the significance of the mediation, a nonparametric
bootstrapping method (see Preacher & Hayes, 2004) with 5000 resamples (Shrout & Bolger,
2002) was used to derive a 95% confidence interval for the impact of nonattachment. The
indirect effect is significant (p < .05) if the upper and lower bounds of the 95% Confidence
Interval (CI) do not include zero. Three separate analyses were conducted, with wisdom, self-
actualization, and self-transcendence entered in each separate analysis as the dependent
variable. Mindfulness was entered as the independent variable and nonattachment as the
mediator in each analysis. As age is known to play a role in the development of
nonattachment (Sahdra et al., 2010), age was entered as a covariate to limit the effect of age
on the dependent variables (see Sahdra et al., 2016). When entered as a covariate, in each
mediation analyses, age ceased to be a significant predictor.
Figure 1. Path diagram depicting nonattachment as the mediator of mindfulness on the
outcome variables of wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. Note. The
coefficients in parenthesis represent the c path where the mediator was excluded from the
analysis. **p < .001
Bootstrapping estimated the indirect effect of nonattachment on wisdom was
estimated to lie between .10 and .24. The indirect effect of nonattachment on self-
actualisation was estimated to lie between .16 and .30, while the indirect effect of
nonattachment on self-transcendence was estimated to lie between .18 and .33, indicating that
the mediating effect of nonattachment in each analysis was significant. Therefore, as the c’
paths were also significant in each case, greater nonattachment was found to partially mediate
the relationships between increased mindfulness and higher levels of wisdom, self-
actualisation, and self-transcendence.
Alternate mediational model
Although the results for mediation support the hypotheses, when testing for
mediation, in addition to having a strong theoretical basis, it is also important that
nonequivalent mediation models are not found to be statistically equivalent (Little, Card,
Bovaird, Preacher & Crandall, 2007). There is a strong theoretical and empirical basis for
nonattachment as a proposed mediator of mindfulness (Dhiravamsa, 1975; Montero-Marin et
al., 2016; Sahdra et al., 2016 Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006). However, it has
previously been discussed that nonattachment is not only cultivated through mindfulness, and
other experiences that foster self-reflection may also facilitate the development of
nonattachment (Sahdra et al., 2010). Therefore, it is possible that building greater
nonattachment, through self-reflection, may foster greater mindfulness, and thus, greater
wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence.
To test this, and rule out alternative mediation models, further bootstrapping analyses
were conducted to test whether mindfulness mediates the relationship of nonattachment to
wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. All variables were converted to z values
and age was entered as a covariate. Results showed the 95% confidence interval for the
indirect effect of mindfulness on wisdom was estimated to lie between .18 and .32, between
.16 and .29 for self-actualisation, and between .10 and .23 for self-transcendence. As none of
the estimations contained zero, the mediating effect of nonattachment in each analysis was
significant. The results indicate that even though Hypothesis 2 was supported, multiple
pathways may exist to building nonattachment and mindfulness which can in turn lead to
greater wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence.
The current study examined mindfulness and nonattachment in relation to three
measures indicative of advanced psychological development. Findings were as hypothesised,
with greater levels of nonattachment and mindfulness being positively correlated with higher
levels of wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. This establishes the proposed
positive relationship of nonattachment to advanced psychological development and replicates
previous findings for the relationship of mindfulness and wisdom (Beaumont, 2011), self-
actualisation (Beitel et al., 2014), and self-transcendence (e.g., Farb et al., 2007; Vago &
Sibersweig, 2014). Also as hypothesised, nonattachment partially mediated the relationship
of mindfulness with each of wisdom, self-actualization, and self-transcendence. This extends
previous research on well-being and ill-being and demonstrates that the role of nonattachment
as a mediator of mindfulness extends to the three indicators of advanced psychological
development. However, further analyses revealed an alternate mediation pathway indicating
mindfulness mediates the relationship of nonattachment to advanced psychological
development. This suggests that nonattachment and mindfulness can both facilitate each
other, and that there may be multiple pathways to building nonattachment.
The findings for nonattachment emphasize the importance of letting go of control of
experience in creating the conditions for advanced psychological development. Consistent
with theoretical propositions, this indicates that as individuals develop greater wisdom and
grow towards actualisation of the self, they lessen attempts to control experience and become
less fixated on it unfolding any particular way. The data also support the contention that
some of the most highly developed people in society display nonattachment (Huxley, 1947)
and an equanimous engagement with experience (Astin & Keen, 2006). Being nonattached
reduces the impact of implicit self-serving biases through building insight into them, rather
than engaging in them. This promotes reflexivity and greater understanding of the self, and
creates a flexibility and openness to life without expectation that allows an individual to
freely take opportunities as they arise, propelling them towards achieving their potential.
In addition to wisdom and self-actualisation, the more an individual can let go of the
need to control their experience, the more likely they are to transcend their own self-focus.
Being nonattached provides a space for individuals to witness the egoic nature of the self
(Epstein, 1988; Hartman & Zimberoff, 2008). Letting go of attachment appears to be a
letting go of the fixation on self (Sahdra et al., 2015). Living a life in which attachments are
prominent would appear to limit development beyond a self-focus. Letting go of attachment
may provide the optimal conditions for a developmental growth process from self-focus to a
more selfless, and self-transcendent focus.
Another unique finding of the present study was the identification of nonattachment
as a partial mediator of the relationship of mindfulness with the measures of advanced
psychological development. This provides further evidence that nonattachment is an
important mechanism of mindfulness and helps to explain the positive impact mindfulness
can have. While taking a mindful stance towards experience can assist in developing
wisdom (Ardelt, 2003; Bluck & Gluck, 2004), the optimal conditions for the development of
wisdom and a deeper understanding of life appears also to involve a letting go of attachment
to what is occurring in one’s field of consciousness. Similarly, while self-actualization is
related to open, mindful engagement in ideas and other people (Maslow, 1968), the present
findings highlight that freedom from attachment to these ideas and thoughts helps to explain
Interestingly, the mediating role of nonattachment was strongest for mindfulness and
self-transcendence. Theoretically, this can be attributed to the egoic self being intertwined
with attachments (Chan, 2008) and the intrinsic self-transcendent nature of nonattachment
(Epstein, 1988). The results indicate that when mindfully engaging with experience as it
occurs moment to moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003), it is the individual’s ability to let go of
controlling that experience that has the greatest impact on transcending self-focus and self-
fixation. This suggests that it is through the engagement of mindfulness that one can let go of
the heavy attachment to self which partly contributes to a more inclusive engagement with
experience that stretches beyond the individual self-focus.
The present findings have a number of implications for future research. In addition to
being an important factor for increased well-being (Sahdra et al., 2010), nonattachment
represents an important quality aligned with the later stages of the psychological
developmental process. Through increased self-awareness and insight into experience
(Sahdra et al., 2015), nonattachment appears to provide the ideal conditions for optimal
psychological development, and the presence (or not) of nonattachment may help explain
why some individuals reach these developmental levels and others do not. This indicates the
importance of studying nonattachment, both as a stand-alone quality and as a mechanism that
helps to explain the positive impact of mindfulness.
It is also noteworthy that nonattachment is not solely cultivated through mindfulness
and meditation (Sahdra et al., 2010). In addition to being mindful, nonattachment may be
developed through self-reflection and developing understanding into the subjective nature of
experience and that all experience is transient (Hanh, 1999; Sahdra et al., 2010). This is
highlighted by the findings suggesting mindfulness also mediates the relationship of
nonattachment to each of wisdom, self-actualisation, and self-transcendence. This result
indicates the multiple pathways to building nonattachment. Perhaps, nonattachment that is
cultivated through pathways other than mindfulness (e.g., psychotherapy, post-traumatic
growth), may also promote mindfulness which can assist in the psychological development
process. This has implications for the development and delivery of psychological
interventions. Although mindfulness and nonattachment are similarly beneficial (Sahdra et
al., 2016) there has been a major focus on interventions designed to promote mindfulness
rather than interventions designed to promote nonattachment. For individuals who may not
find the experiential nature of mindfulness-based practices beneficial (e.g., Chambers et al.,
2016), interventions designed to build insight into the subjective and transient nature of
experience and thus, greater nonattachment, may be of great benefit. For individuals wishing
to facilitate their own, or others’ psychological development process, understanding the
specific pathways to nonattachment may provide insight into the development of greater
wisdom, self-actualisation, and transcendence of self-focus.
There are a number of methodological considerations in the present study. One
limitation was that the participants were all university students and may not have captured a
sample representative of the general population. Also, there were more women than men in
the sample which raises the possibility of gender bias; however, Sahdra et al. (2010) observed
no significant gender difference in scores on nonattachment. Additionally, all respondents
were residing in Australia which further limits the generalisability of the findings. Future
studies are needed with a more diverse and representative sample to determine the
generalisability of the findings. Further, the results are cross-sectional and causality cannot be
determined. Although, the results support previous theory that nonattachment is believed to
emanate from mindfulness (Sahdra et al., 2016), the results of the current cross-sectional
study suggest that the causal pathways may be more complex. It is likely that nonattachment
may assists individuals to be more mindful, and that qualities such as wisdom and self-
transcendence could also facilitate greater instances of mindfulness and nonattachment.
Future longitudinal research comparing the mechanisms and outcomes of mindfulness and
nonattachment-based interventions may help elucidate the specific causal pathways to
wisdom, self-actualisation and self-transcendence. A longitudinal study would also be
valuable to investigate changes in optimal psychological development over time.
In conclusion, the present findings are the first to show nonattachment is related to
advanced psychological development and is a significant partial mediator of the relationship
between mindfulness and wisdom, self-actualisation, and self-transcendence. However, the
results also indicate there may be multiple pathways to building nonattachment and
mindfulness that may are beneficial for psychological development. These findings support
the need for further research on nonattachment, support the benefits of mindfulness, and have
implications for interventions designed specifically to promote nonattachment.
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