In yoga philosophy, non-attachment is a powerful and important concept that runs counter to human nature in a lot of ways. The idea is we need to put forth effort without attachment to the results of that effort. The practice of non-attachment gives us more freedom and opportunity to use our gifts, because it allows us to focus on what we can offer in this moment, not the results that may or may not come some time in the future.
I can think of lots of examples that illustrate what happens when I practice non-attachment, even when I forget to do so at first. Usually, I learn something I didn’t realize about why it can be difficult to let go.
For example, I remember a time I did something for a friend and expected her to do something specific in return, even though my yogi self knew better. After a few days, I realized the outcome I wanted hadn’t happened, and I was sad about that. At first, I wasn’t sure why I was sad. I was discouraged in general because it seemed I’d been doing a lot but not getting the kind of feedback I wanted.
When I thought about the yogic law of non-attachment soon after this incident with my friend, I eventually realized I wasn’t sad because I wasn’t getting recognition for my efforts. In fact, I was getting it from other sources. But in this case, I wanted it from a specific person, a person I value (my friend).
Let It Go
As a yogi, I know it’s effort, not outcome that counts. I’m better when I focus on service, not recognition.
Oh, but I’m also human.
Okay, my friend didn’t appreciate what I’d created for her, or at least she didn’t tell me she did. Let it go, I told myself. And soon enough (thank you, yoga), I did let it go.
But I was still a little sad, which suggested something else was going on. Maybe this wasn’t as much about the offering but the creating. In other words, I wasn’t struggling with whether to offer what I create. I was struggling with the purpose of creating—or of making any kind of effort—without evidence that it has value. Can I trust that I make a difference even when no one tells me I do?
Struggling With the Law of Non-Attachment
In his book The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope talks about finding our dharma or life’s purpose. He says we’re all born to do something. We’re obliged to do it, Cope says, but we’re not entitled to its fruits. This is the law of non-attachment, and for the most part, I think I’m okay with that.
But can I be sure I’m producing fruit? In other words, without recognition (the outcome we often seek when we offer something), can we still believe that we’re making a difference?
Another issue with attachment is concern about negative attention. What if someone takes something we do or say the wrong way? What if our good intentions end up backfiring and causing someone else to suffer instead?
The Law of Non-attachment Is Not About Indifference
Swami Rama put it this way: “If you really want to enjoy life and be happy, learn to practice and understand the philosophy of non-attachment.” He also says, “Non-attachment does not mean indifference or non-loving.”
Swami Rama’s ideas helped me see what was really getting me down after the incident with my friend. I didn’t necessarily want recognition (though recognition always feels good). I wanted to believe what I do makes a difference. And I began to wonder how to align my efforts with results without needing to know in advance what those results would be.
Well, that’s simple enough to do, right? You just need to know what your gift is and find a way to use it well in true service.
Ah, if it were so easy, non-attachment wouldn’t be a practice.
We’re Human After All
As yogis, we practice letting go every day. But as humans, we need to be seen and connected. Most of us need some level of encouragement to nourish our gifts. But if we always need it in order to act, we’ll probably act a lot less often.
Nourish is an important word, though. A tree or flower can’t continue to offer its gifts without water. We must, as many sages have said, plant our seeds in fertile soil, then trust them to do their thing. But if we don’t scatter any seeds at all, because we’re not sure if fertile soil exists, there’s no chance anything will grow.
I believe our gifts come through us, but they are not of us. They come from something much greater than we are. We can value, use and even nourish these gifts, but we don’t own them. And that’s why the yogic sages teach us the law of non-attachment.
I’ll try to remember all this next time I wonder whether to plant a new seed, even when I’m not sure it will grow.
In what ways do you struggle with attachment to the outcome of your efforts? Perhaps it’s a good time to loosen your grip just a bit and take a chance on whatever you feel called to do next.
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