Relaxing Attachment and Allowing Life
Do you ever find yourself holding on so tightly to a desired outcome that you are a filled with anxiety, tension or blind ambition? Have you ever wanted to do a yoga posture so badly so that you are literally obsessing about it and can talk of almost nothing else? This is perhaps the definition of unhealthy attachment at its core. Yet at the same time the driven mind directed at a task at hand is one of the most powerful tools we have to change our lives. So the question then becomes not how to rid ourselves of our desires or our drive but instead how to train our mind to work towards our desires without the unnecessary tension of attachment. For it is often just at the moment when we truly let go that everything we want arrives with ease.
Your state of mind influences every movement you make. Hold on too tightly and there will always be an insatiability at the core of all your actions and no peace within the intensity of your grip. The only reason we ever hold on for dear life to goals, achievements or desires is because we have attached our identity to the material form of the actualization of those dreams. And while there is perhaps nothing more satisfying in life than the experience of moving from a place where your dreams are not yet manifest into the full expression of your dreams, the attainment itself will not make you happy, relaxed or free. Instead only by learning to be happy and free right now will you find happiness and freedom in your life at all. Intense attachment to a particular goal often also creates a pervasive anxiety that only leads to misery, pain and suffering elsewhere in your life. No amount of achievement will satisfy this inner tension if you cannot learn to allow life to flow freely through you by relaxing your attachment to the outcome.
When you care more about your attainment of the goal than the experience of attaining the goal you often place undue value on the goal itself. In doing so you may even think that the ends justify the means. Yet no goal, success or thing is worth sacrificing your peace of mind or your principles along the way. If you enjoy the process rather than remain attached to goal you will find greater freedom and flexibility in your life now. Sometimes even when a long-desired goal is attained a feeling of loneliness, dissatisfaction or loss remains. This strange paradox exists because of an illusory identification in the goals themselves. Real happiness exists right here and now within you and is not dependent on your attainment of anything. If you locate your self-worth in your actions or your ability to do things then you will only hold on too tightly to these things you want to attain. If you locate your sense of self worth as independent of actions, goals or achievements then you are free to enjoy the process of working towards your dreams without unhealthy attachment.
The yoga tradition teaches non-attachment, vairagya in Sanskrit, not so that you walk around in a state of emotional detachment devoid of expression, but instead so that you will know that your deepest sense of self exists outside the realm of things, goals and material success. By practicing releasing attachments you let go of your intense identification with the world of materiality and begin to relax and play with life in a state of joy. The odd thing is that often the moment when you experience the state of vairagya, things that you have literally been slaving for often arrive with little or no effort. Life energy cannot flow when you grip too tightly and when you relax you allow life to flow through you. It is the current of life, not your stressed out state of panic, that delivers the gifts of success, attainment and accomplishment to you.
When I began practicing yoga I naively thought the postures or asanas themselves would lead me to enlightenment and so I held onto the form of the physical postures so tightly that I simply had no peace in my body. Over time I realized that enlightenment is not a state achieved by any posture, nor is it one readily attainable through mere yoga postures. Instead any inner awakening must come from a personal revolution of consciousness where your inner being comes fully alive. Once attachment even to the form of yoga itself softens then the energy of life flows through the body during practice. Until that moment of release the outward manifestations of effortful attachment can be seen in the tension in practitioners’ jaws, the white knuckles of a hand bound too tightly in challenging asanas, the self-inflicted injury of pushing too hard past sensitive knees, over-engaged fingers reaching into space with a latent aggression or a spine that breaks but does not bend. When you literally relax into an acceptance and a knowingness of your deepest sense of self then you move into a subtlety of movement that is the embodiment of grace. As you release your attachment to perfection then you will know what it means to be perfect as you are.
Whenever you try to “make” something happen it is often a good indication that you are overly attached to the outcome. If you notice that you are holding onto a relationship, a goal or even a yoga posture with a iron fist begin the hard work of practicing non-attachment and let it go no matter how much it hurts. In a sense the pain that you experience when you accept the possibility of your desires and dreams not working out exactly as you planned them is the pain that leads to purification. Rather than using excessive force to beat your body, other people or situations into submission release your attachment and allow what life wants to happen to be. Accept reality even when it hurts and you will begin to know a place inside yourself beyond the hurt. A new way of being begins when you finally stop trying to control the events of life with blood, sweat and tears. The practice of non-attachment leads you to a deep expression of faith and trust in the good of the universe and in life itself because if you let go of your control you must trust life to have your greatest good at its heart. For only if you doubt your connection to the love that is the source of life will you feel a need to hold on with effort to the outcome of your life.
It’s not to say that all you have to do is sit in your room and release attachments to outcome and then things will arrive on your doorstep and you will magically be floating up into handstands. The truth is that you have to practice and you have to show up for life. The truth is also that you have to exert much less effort and strain than you might otherwise think to get the results you want. In the tradition of Buddhism there is a concept called Right Effort that yoga practitioners would do well to integrate into their practice. It is the sixth of the eight paths in the Noble Eightfold Path and teaches practitioners to release what is unskillful in exchange for that which is skillful. You could understand effort done with unhealthy attachment as unskillful means to achieve a desired result, evidenced by the tension, pain, injury and misery that often accompany unskillful action. By contrast you could take right effort to mean the perfect balance between activation and release, direction and allowing, motivation and faith, and desire and acceptance. Right effort is enlightened action in the body and mind and anxiety, stress or holding with an iron fist are simply not part of this sacred path. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, “You have to put your intelligence in your body”. Through the practice of non-attachment yoga practitioners engage in right effort by bringing the mind, body and spirit into balance.
Relax into the postures you find most challenging and invite the joy of movement into your being. Practice until the attachment to form vanishes and transcend your physicality by reaching a deeper understanding of yourself. Trade the effortful for the graceful and allow life to live itself powerfully through you.