Vairagya or the practice of non-attachment is terrifying to me. Perhaps because it feels extremely challenging, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own mortality and the fleeting nature of all that surrounds me and also perhaps because I truly love many of the things that I find myself being attached to and to face the possibility of losing these doesn’t seem like much fun!
Rationally, we know that attachment is useless. Everything is always changing and we are all going to die. Much of our life, however, is constructed around the presumption that this isn’t true.
So, how does this practice work? What does non-attachment look like in the context of a yoga practice? During meditation? As I navigate my life? What does this mean for my goals, my loved ones, my coffee addiction and my future?
After some time thinking about this, here are some thoughts:
When all gets boiled down, whether I’m clinging to an idea, an object, a person or a goal, I’m clinging to an outcome: I want this to happen next. Or: I really don’t want this to happen next! I’m placing some kind of value, either negative or positive, on something that I really can’t control: the future! This means that if my attachments are all related to what I want or don’t want to happen, the practice becomes that of not being attached to specific outcomes.
Simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but this practice certainly isn’t easy. Our attachments are strong. Sure, there are myriad small addictions that we all have. I, for one, really love coffee and it might be a tough to give up my attachment to the effect of caffeine on my body.
There are, however, many more complex and deep-rooted things that I cling to. For example, I daily make tons of assumptions about how the world works, what it means to do good, how to succeed and what are the components, which make up my personality. We also hold many different beliefs about what it means to be accepted and weather or not this is important. Quite often, self-harming behaviors such as substance abuse, addiction and obsession are tightly woven around these ideas. To let go of these types of attachments is much more of a process.
That is why it is a practice. The next question is of course, in the sea of attachments and assumptions that make up the stuff of our lives, where do we begin to untangle this knotted mess?
I think that where this practice begins is in the act of noticing. I begin by bringing my awareness to a few attachments and assumptions I hold. Maybe this leads to the discovery of a few more. I can take it as slowly or as quickly as I need in any moment. I also remember to take on the task of unraveling my attachments with a lot of love, care and as much as possible, without judgment. Maybe it is painful and challenging to let go of certain things and takes quite some time. Maybe this leads to a great sense of relief. Perhaps this means that I have permission to let go of ideas and things that no longer serve me. Maybe, this even leads me to imagine a life where my action isn’t driven by clinging to those things that I’m attached to. Maybe, I teach myself to move through the world without the goal of achieving specific outcomes.
Now, if I get to a point where even a small portion of my actions is not driven by attachment, this practice has the potential to yield staggering and incredible results.
First off, there is the possibility of vastly increased openness; openness to people, possibilities and ideas that likely weren’t on my radar before integrating the practice of non-attachment into my life.
When I practice non-attachment to specific outcomes, my goals can be fluid and open. Instead of having goals, in fact, I can create intentions, sort of mission statements related to the way in which I want to approach my life. My practice becomes one of showing up applying my intention by doing my best in each situation.
I can let go of a good dose of fear. By keeping the reality of being mortal very close in each moment, I can allow for experimentation, change and flexibility without being afraid of what I am going to lose.
The practice is one of love and the expression of love without any expectation of reciprocation in any specific way. I become very generous with my heart as it becomes clearer and clearer that I won’t run out of the stuff that love is made of.
The practice is one of feeling, of examining emotion without self-judgment or reaction. Of taking time with this and after some time, I act! I do exactly what is needed in the moment and remain un-phased by the nagging question which tends to stunt the ability to act selflessly: How is this affirming the ideas I love to believe about myself?
The practice of non-attachment is one of becoming intimate instead with a different question: What is going to happen next?
Can I ask that question without gripping or trying to control the answer?
I think that is the practice of non-attachment…
Always a fool,