The concepts of attachment and non-attachment are mentioned several times in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Asana, on the other hand, is only mentioned as a preparation for meditation. So though most people think asana is the be-all and end-all in yoga, practicing non-attachment is significantly more important. But what is non-attachment, exactly, and what does it imply about how we relate to our world?
The sutras say raga—attachment—is neither good nor bad. In fact, it’s an important part of human survival. If it weren’t for attachment, I’m pretty sure my parents would have strangled me by the age of thirteen. In spite of that, the sutras warn, attachment can lead to suffering.
Not too many people argue with the fact that being attached to money or possessions can cause suffering. But this whole idea of being non-attached to people, ideals, or outcomes? Well, that seems to be tougher. The prevailing question is always the same: How can I be non-attached without becoming detached?
Personally, I don’t see the problem; the two concepts are completely different. Non-attachment implies being of this world, but not caught up in it. Detachment, on the other hand implies withdrawing from the world, either in an effort to avoid its complications or because we simply don’t care.
When we are non-attached, we practice; we love; we help others. And we work to leave our best mark in the world. But we do so knowing that the outcome may be different than we envision, and we are OK with that. We’re not tied up in the specific results.
For example, I can practice yoga faithfully without caring if I ever get my foot behind my head; I can accept the actions of my friends and family even when they treat me differently than I would hope; I can give of my time and energy to others—and still feel good about it—even if they choose a different path than I think they should. All while remaining at peace. I give to the world with a full heart regardless of the outcome, because I know that, in the long term, things generally turn out as they should.
Detachment, on the other hand, implies an uncaring numbness—a hollowness in relation to the world around us. When we are detached, we feel separate from others; we lack empathy; we feel defeated. We may experience this as indifference, depression, self-importance, aloofness, or even numbness. But the result is inevitably the same. When I am detached, the world exists, but I don’t connect with it. I don’t take action; I don’t practice; in fact, I don’t do much of anything. Why would I bother?
A life of detachment feels desolate; one of non-attachment, serene. Our world will be a much better place when it is overflowing with active, compassionate, non-attachment. Only then can we find harmony and peace.
What are your thoughts? Please post a comment below.
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