As humans, we come with no attachments. The soul enters the body, the spirit starts its current journey. Eyes wide open, innocent and free. However, as soon as we arrive, we start to grow the myriads of connections based on our impressions. First to our parents, siblings, our body, our feelings.
We learn, condition, and get conditioned. Good and bad, cold and warm, reward and punishment—this is the nature of duality, and duality is the nature of planet Earth.
Our brain learns its way around in this arena as it starts to analyze and sort, label, and sticker. This is the job of the brain and it’s designed to protect us, to ensure our survival. Strangely, however, it is also the reason behind most of our suffering—as we learn almost immediately when we step on our yoga mat or sit down to meditate.
How Labelling Manifests in Yoga
"It’s too warm here. It’s too cold. This class is too fast. This is too slow. I need a better yoga mat. I don’t like yoga mats. I like this teacher. I hate this teacher. This is a good yoga pose. That is a bad yoga pose."
Some people set their mats to the exact same spot in the same room for every class, and God forbid someone else gets there first because if so, they are in immediate distress. Some people have to wear the same outfit every time. Or a mala. Drink water at the same time. Sing Ohm 3 times…No, just once! Repeat the same mantra, posture, sequence, and direction…you get the point.
Attachment leads to judgment, and judgment leads to reaction.
Our reactions are usually either flight (leaving) or fight (internal turmoil). In one word, we could call this result: stress.
I once heard a sweet story of an ashram in India. The Guru had a sweet, affectionate cat. Every time the disciples sat down to meditate, this cat rubbed herself against them, looking for affection. This was distracting, of course. After many complaints, the guru finally told them to take a rope and tie the cat to a tree while they meditate.
So that is what they did, and from then on, they always started the meditation by first tying the cat to the tree. This became a habit. Many years followed, new students came and they observed this habit. They knew nothing about its origin, but believed it was important. In fact the word spread about this odd "habit" and now, this branch of yoga is famous for a cat being tied to a tree every time a disciple tries to practice.
If I sit with this funny story for a second, I see the birth of different religions of the world. Again: attachment leads to judgment, judgment leads to reaction. In the world of religion, this led to many wars and suffering in history, demonstrating so well the dangers of attachment.
Non-Attachment Versus Detachment
Identifying a problem without offering a solution is nothing but whining. As a beginner practitioner many years ago, I also went through (and am still practicing daily) the mission of letting go of attachments.
I heard the word “detachment” for many years. Trust me, I tried. But to me, there was something distant, cold, and non-human about this word. How can I detach and get "de-touched?" I don’t want to lose my connections, the spice of my life, the very thing that makes life worth living!
Let me share what helped me tremendously. I found my practice of non-attachment in another old story:
Once a powerful king went to see the wise Brahmin. He said to him: "Oh wise teacher! My life is full of comfort, my servants seek to fulfill all my wishes. I’m rich and powerful but I can not find happiness. The problems of my kingdom lay heavy on my chest. The issues of my people are my issues. I cannot sleep at night, can not eat for days sometimes. Please! Give me advice! I seek one simple cure for all my problems and my people’s problems."
After a little mediation, the Brahmin gave him a ring. On that ring were carved these words: "This too shall pass."
The Brahmin said, "Touch this ring every time you are in distress. Practice this mantra and your problems will settle."
Many years ago, I got myself an imaginary ring just like that. I touch it in my mind at the sweetest moments of my life (cuddling on the couch with my man, running my fingers through the fur of my dog, watching the sun rise over the ocean), and this mantra helps me appreciate these moments 100 times more.
This too shall pass.
I repeat it when I’m surprised. When I hear news that would usually shock me or excite me. Most especially when things are hard, or just not going according to my liking…this too shall pass..
No, I’m not detached. In those moments, I am non-attached. Very present, but not reactive. This practice of non-attachment is providing me with moments of being the most alive I have ever been or felt.
Of course, my asana practice became less “stressful” as well. I no longer complain and focus on the heat, cold, mat, water, neighbour, teacher—none of them can steal my peace. Yoga is the path of liberation—from pain, from heartache, from material obsessions, and from our attachments.
On this journey, I am with you, and I am grateful.
Image credit: Kate Swarm