For the better part of this week, I’ve been dancing around the metaphorical mulberry bush, trying to come up with a clear understanding of non-attachment. And one of the biggest stumbling blocks in my dither between ‘it’s not exactly this but not exactly that’ as been defining what I mean when I say ‘attachment’.
A long-time reader rides to the rescue. Michael from Hong Kong and I have been corresponding for a couple of years on all things yoga and the other day, when he he read one of my blog postings, he left the comment that Eastern cultures have a different perspective from what I was writing about, so I asked him if he’d care to elaborate and today he sent this back:
I was thinking of how I would translate the general concept in Chinese, and I suppose I would use “things we cannot put down”. It’s somewhat interesting that it’s a non-negative (is that what they call it?). Non-attachment = put down in Chinese, Attachment = non-put down in Chinese.
Yes, folks, we have a winner!!! Bless you, bless you, Michael, a thousand times bless you. An attachment is any thing – person, place, emotional state, substance, practice, accomplishment, idea, philosophy, concept, definition, material object – any thing that you cannot put down or let go of. An attachment can be mild, medium or extreme, like addictions. It can useful or it can be damaging. It can be long standing or recent but if it meets the criterion of something I can’t put down, it’s an attachment.
So, it flows from there at non-attachment, vairagya, is the cultivation of skill involved with putting down, letting go, severing our attachment. So I do my yoga practice, but I let go of my expectations of where I should be in it. I work with my seated forward bend but I lose my attachment to how far I can move my forehead towards my knees. I do my assignments at school to the best of my ability but I let go of my expectations concerning grades and final results. Mmmmmh, this last one is going to be a tad challenging come January.
Non-attachment is not suppression. It’s not about burying desire or rejecting it as wrongful or sinful or any of that. Vairagya is about losing desire, letting go of it. We recognize the attachment as one of the poisons of the mind – a klesha – and we let go of it.
To me, this is about letting go of the emotional investment into something. I stop using “It” – and “It” can be my car, my kids, my school grades, my yoga practice, my spiritual beliefs, my dietary choices – to define me. In other words, for me, it’s about creating identity and so much of my identity seems to be wound up in my attachments. Ego, the “I-maker” is one of the other kleshas, mind toxins.
The yogi, the accomplished practitioner of yoga, rises above the desire of ego. The ego has been trained to be in its proper place as a servant of the mind and not running the show. Above all, Vairagya is an attitude. The measure of a yogini is not how far back she can drop into camel posture. The measure of the practice is how much she can let go of her attachments. Krishnamacharya taught that the quality of the yogi is measured by the quality of his vairagya. Remember that one the next time the discussion turns to yoga competitions in the Olympics.
And, as I am finding out, that’s seen in our reactions when we’re faced with a challenge. If you want to know if you’re attached to something, have it taken away from you. In the last six months, I’ve really had to examine my attachments to identities surrounding work, my place in my family, my health status, how I’m viewed by others and the list goes on. At the bottom of all my existential angst lies one question: Who am I without my attachments? It’s certainly been an experiment in openness, vulnerability and emotional nakedness and maybe, someday, I’ll even have an answer for that question.
In the meanwhile, have a good weekend. Thank you for reading and Namaste,