Just like we practice our asana (body postures) and pranayama (breathing) in yoga, we must also practice the art of letting go. First, it should be mentioned that letting go and detachment are in no way equivalent here. Nor is detachment the opposite of attachment. In fact, I think it’s important that we view detachment as sort of a depressed, desolate state of being. By detaching yourself from the world around you, you lose your desire to care, your desire to help, and your connection to all good things. So, for the sake of this blog post, let’s tuck the word ‘detachment’ away and focus on letting go.
Letting go, in a sense, is releasing your attachment to an object, an idea, or an emotion. Ideally, our goal is to release all attachment and live in a place where we aren’t emotionally altered by outcomes and don’t live on expectations. So, what is attachment and what does it feel like?
Attachment is essentially being bound to a sensation. You may be attached to a person because of how good you feel when you’re around them, you may be attached to a smell because of the memories that come flooding when you breathe it in, or you may be attached to certain plans, because you expect that the outcome will suit you.
While attachment seems to bind us to good things, it is important to note that it’s our expectation of the outcome that often leads to pain and suffering. Imagine in my last example, when you’re expecting plans to lead to a certain outcome. You are attached to this outcome because you know it will make you happy or add enjoyment to your life in some way. When the outcome isn’t what you expected, it typically leads to confusion, pain, and suffering. In this case, our attachment to expectation led us astray.
So let’s look at non-attachment and see how we might be able to practice this in our daily lives.
Non-attachment (Aparigraha) is one of the 5 Yamas or
ethical values, as I outlined in my last post. For a quick recap, click here! By practicing non-attachment, we are not letting go of the person or object or thought itself, but we are practicing letting go of expectations and outcomes. For example, the holidays can be a time when we experience intense attachment; we expect things to go a certain way in terms of traditions, gifts, meals, etc. This expectation leads to pain and suffering if things don’t go exactly as we imagine them in our minds (which they never do). Not to mention, the lead-up to these expectations creates stress and anxiety, simply because we’re trying so hard to force the outcomes. *Sigh* What an exhausting way to live!
How can we practice non-attachment?
Now that we have a better understanding of what attachment and non-attachment are, let’s talk about how we can practice non-attachment. While simply said, it is definitely not simply done: we need to let go of expectation. Every time we come face to face with a slight feeling of attachment (remember, this could be in the form of stress, anxiety, fear, or even intense happiness, joy, and excitement), we should mentally take the following steps toward non-attachment:
(1) Identify the attachment. This is not the object, thought, or feeling itself; but rather your expectation. For example: “I am feeling anxious about cooking dinner on Christmas because I’m afraid it will taste bad.” In this situation, the attachment is to your expectation of how the meal will taste, not in cooking the meal itself. Another example: “I am so happy that my husband surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers!” In this situation, the attachment is to the intense feeling of happiness and joy, not in the bouquet of flowers itself or even your husband (be careful here, as attachment to these positive feelings can often lead to intense pain and suffering, simply because we train ourselves to expect them).
(2) Practice mentally letting go of the attachment. If we approach these situations with the understanding that the outcome could be different than what we’re expecting, we are training our minds to let go of the attachment. It’s important to stay neutral and simply have no expectations at all. If you expect a situation to have a negative outcome, you’re only adding anxiety and fear to your life; if you expect a situation to have a positive outcome, you’re risking the possibility of experiencing intense pain and suffering when it doesn’t play out as you imagined.
PRACTICE THIS RIGHT NOW: Take an attachment (expectation) that you’ve already recognized and mentally visualize it floating away. Or try some deep breathing; with each exhale, imagine your attachment and expectations escaping your mind.
(3) Turn your focus to the activity, object, or person. Instead of focusing on the outcome, try turning your focus to the activity, object, or person. For example: instead of creating anxiety over the outcome of your Christmas meal, instead try to focus on the act of feeding others, the freedom you feel in the kitchen, or the joy you experience while cooking. By letting go of the outcome, we are free to fully commit ourselves to the activity.
(4) Understand that this is a practice, and something you will need to revisit often to achieve non-attachment. This may even mean practicing non-attachment in the same situation, over and over, until you feel a sense of freedom from your expectations. Or perhaps practicing non-attachment each time you recognize the feeling of attachment.
Imagine living with no attachment to outcomes and expectations. What a beautifully lightweight and blissful life that would be! We can all start living a little bit lighter by practicing letting go. I would love to hear how you practice letting go in the comments below!
Be well and be light, my friends.
Peace and much love.