In yoga philosophy, non-attachment is a key concept that runs counter to human nature in a lot of ways. The principle refers to putting 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 now, not the results that may or may not come some time in the future. There is never a guarantee that things will unfold as we want them to.
I can think of lots of examples that illustrate what happens when I remember to practice non-attachment. Usually, I learn something I didn’t realize about why it can be difficult to let go. Sometimes the outcome is what I wanted. Sometimes it’s not.
For example, I remember a time I did something for a friend and expected a certain kind of response, even though the yogi in me knew better. After a few days, I realized the outcome I wanted wasn’t going to happen, and I was sad. 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 results I’d hoped for.
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 anywhere. 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 best to focus on effort, not outcome. 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. Soon enough, I did. But I was still a little sad, and I began to realize 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. Could I trust that I make a difference even when no one tells me I do?
If we look closely at why not getting the outcomes we seek troubles us, we may find there’s a deeper reason than we initially think.
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 the fruits of our efforts. 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 without recognition (the outcome we often seek when we offer something), can we still believe 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?
Non-attachment Is Not Indifference
Swami Rama said, “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.” It also doesn’t mean we won’t be hurt or disappointed when we don’t get what we want.
It just means we need to recognize when that happens and let it go. If we don’t, it may become too easy to give up and withdraw from life entirely.
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.
If that was as easy as writing that sentence was, non-attachment wouldn’t be called 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 act less.
Nourish is an important word, though. A tree can’t continue to offer fruit without water. We must, as many sages have said, plant our seeds in fertile soil, then trust the process. If we don’t scatter any seeds at all, because we’re not sure where the fertile soil is, there’s no chance anything will grow.
Wisdom suggests that our gifts come through us, but 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.
When do you you struggle with attachment to the outcome of your efforts? Next time it happens, consider loosening your grip just a bit. Then take a chance on whatever you feel called to do next.
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I saw many people struggling to detach. Yoga taught us how important letting go actually is.