Healthy non-attachment is at the heart of living a yogic lifestyle. This is because yoga and Buddhism teach us that attachments are what ultimately cause us to suffer. Non-attachment doesn’t mean avoiding or numbing our emotions. It means being present and accepting our thoughts and feelings while simultaneously understanding that they are inherently fleeting. In fact, if we can cultivate a strong, steady center, then we can more freely express ourselves because we ultimately learn how to master our thoughts and emotions rather than being at their mercy. (Learn more in How to Master Your Mind.)
Many things can obstruct our ability to see clearly the nature of the present moment because of negative thoughts and emotions, toxic people and situations, expectations we have for ourselves and others, consumer mentality, the results and outcomes of our work – you fill in the blank. Here are three ways we can all learn how to practice non-attachment:
The Nature of Reality
Yoga teaches us that everything in the material world is fleeting and impermanent. Everything is endlessly coming and going, arising and falling. When we attach our happiness to the inherently ephemeral nature of life, we end up suffering. Nothing in the material world is the cause for our santosha, our deep contentment – nothing. When we truly get this, when we learn to detach from whatever it is we’ve attached our happiness to – whether it’s a relationship, an outcome, a situation, a fleeting pleasure a material thing – we get in touch with what does bring us contentment – something more permanent. This is what we strive to connect to in yoga. It’s our soul, our Atman, our spiritual heart, our higher Self, our divinity within and without. Living from this place is ultimately more fulfilling. We just have to get there. (Learn more in Finding Happiness.)
Practicing mindfulness of emotions and thoughts gives us a way to work with our tendency to identify so completely with positive or negative feelings. Suffering is the experience of being tossed around by the opposites, the dvandvas, as they’re called in Sanskrit. These are things like pleasure and pain, good and bad, hot and cold, etc. (Read more in The Art of Mindfulness.)
We alleviate our suffering when we learn how to surf the space between these opposite states of emotions or being. In doing so, we connect to that witnessing presence within that doesn’t get tossed around by the violent crashing waves of emotion. Once we’re able to tap into that witnessing presence, we become freer in our ability to experiment with the various feeling states available to us. This works because we’ve mastered them by not being controlled by their every whim and fluctuation.
Take some time to meditate each day in a peaceful space where you can drop into yourself, by closing your eyes and sitting in stillness. Allow yourself to connect to that part of you that knows you are not your thoughts or emotions. Now, allow yourself to drop into the sensation of feeling deeply relaxed. Next, drop into the sensation of feeling tension. Then move back into the feeling of relaxation and then back into the feeling of constriction – back and forth, back and forth until you experience that space within you that is the witness of these two opposing states. You can play around with any opposing emotions – feeling into one and then its opposite – happy and sad, hot and cold, confusion and clarity, freedom and bondage – you get the idea. The more you meditate upon these opposing states of being, the easier it will be to connect to the space within you that’s always still, always calm, and always watching and witnessing the opposites, the dvandvas.
Know Your Higher Self
We access our higher selves when we sit in meditation, when we quiet the mind and drop into our heart space. We access it when we understand and experience total compassion, wisdom and unconditional love for all beings. Our higher selves aren’t really attached to anything outside of us because they innately know that everything we will ever need lies within. To know our higher Self takes work. It takes a level of discipline, or tapas, to study ourselves. The practice of self-study, also known as svadhyaya in Sanskrit, is one of the niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and for good reason. For it teaches us to “study thyself, discover the Divine.” (Learn more in Svadhyaya: A Lifetime of Self-Study.)