To Detach, Attach or Non-Attach?

Yoga Sutra 1.15
drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagya

Clear knowledge of non-attachment arises when objects seen or heard, by the eye or imagery is not desired.

In the bedside table of my Mumbai hotel room

Tonight, Geeta gave a talk on a section of the Bhagavad Gita, (a 700 verse scripture dated from between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE) which I did not understand one word of. Not one word! However, I did leave curious about it and decided to do a bit of internet searching. I discovered some interesting insights on one of its primary principles, the teachings of non-attachment, reflected in the Bhagavad Gita's texts and also Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that acting with non-attachment means doing the right thing for its own sake, because it needs to be done, without worrying about success or failure. This is tricky in our Western culture where we tend to be so achievement and goal oriented. Being attached to the outcome means you are dedicated, loyal, driven and successful! A good employee! A good Mom!  If you detach, you are lazy, apathetic and destined for nowhere! A bum! 

But what about the practice of non-attachment? How does it differ?

I always tell my students, "yoga is a metaphor for life." With that in mind, I have been thinking about the meaning behind attachment, detachment and non-attachment and am reminded of how well my practice on the mat teaches a life practice for off the mat:

For example, if I become attached to the outcome of how the yoga asanas look, I can easily become ego-centred, try to outperform my classmates, waste money on the latest yoga clothes or blather on about some teaching I only pretend to understand. If I lose awareness of my body in the asana, I forget to breathe, I tighten my muscles and fall out of the pose. The fall may even trigger self-criticism and judgment, unhealthy focus on or resentment of other students and could maybe even cause injury. Attachment only serves to agitate my mind, disrupt the flow of the practice, prevent me from obtaining its benefits and disconnect me from others. Thus, in life just like in yoga, when we don't meet the expectations we place on ourselves (or that we place on others), our attachment to those expected outcomes can cause confusion, heart aches, sorrow, anxiety and pain.

On the other hand, if I focus too much upon detachment, I have a tendency to become apathetic, non-attentive and to daydream. I do not push my poses to their edge or approach them with attention and concentration. Detachment provides me with an excuse to avoid challenging poses and to forgo practicing with the intensity that will expand my practice. My scoliosis can not be a scapegoat for detaching and some days, I know it is.

Working with assistance, in the medical classes on Virbhadrasana 3

"I don't care." "It doesn't matter." "I don't want to think about it." "That is his/her problem." "It is too late to do anything." Detachment implies a suppression of your attachment.  But like holding your breath underwater, everything that we try to suppress will rise up again if left untreated. 

So yoga teaches us that in life, using detachment as an excuse not to deal with fundamental issues is a recipe for suffering. Most importantly, I also think that detaching from relationships, possessions or goals can actually cheat a life. Engagement with people and places, skills and ideas, money and possessions, beliefs and values is what grounds our yogic practice in reality. Without these external and internal relationships, and the pressure they create, it's hard to learn compassion and hard to put spiritual insights into action. We live in this world and cannot avoid that.

So somewhere in the middle is non-attachment; engaged action without expectations or the attachment to particular outcomes. Non-attachment is not a synonym for indifference, or carelessness, or passivity of detachment. In non-attachment, there is no attachment to suppress.  By practicing non-attachment, you acknowledge the thoughts that come up, but you do not let them ruin your time. You let them be in your head and you don't attach on to them and treat them as the truth. It’s about letting critical thoughts come up but not believing in them so much that they begin to rule your behavior and core belief system about yourself. Non-attachment lets you ask questions of yourself and others and challenge your beliefs so that you may grow in new knowledge and change destructive thought patterns into balanced ones. Non-attachment fosters compassion.

“If you think you're free, there's no escape possible.” --Ram Dass

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