In yogic philosophy, there is a lot of talk about how attachment is the root of suffering. There is an emphasis placed on practicing detachment in order to feel contentment.
The concept of detachment has been tricky for me grasp. Being "detached" used to sound cold and heartless to me. I used to think, why would I even want to feel detached? I thought practicing detachment meant disconnecting from my emotions and caring less about the world around me. Sure, it sort of sounded like a way to avoid pain, but it also sounded like a way to miss out on all the good stuff. It sounded like a boring, numbing, lonely way to move through life.
After being exposed to the concept of detachment again and again over the past 10 years of studying yoga, I think I am starting to get it. My understanding of what it means to practice detachment has been a bit backwards. Practicing detachment does imply that there is a disconnection, but not in the way that I thought it meant.
The practice of detachment is the practice of disconnecting from the OUTCOME, so that we can cultivate an even deeper connection with the PRESENT MOMENT. Detachment does NOT suggest that we detach from our feelings or our surroundings, it implies that we feel our current feelings even more deeply and connect with our surroundings even more intentionally. The trick (and the practice) is to detach from the habit we have of projecting expectations into the future or assuming things based on past experiences. When we are attached to the past or the future, we rob ourselves of the present moment.
I want to share with you a few life examples to bust some myths about how to practice detachment:
Example 1: Being in an intimate relationship
How attachment to outcome can create suffering: The relationship does not go how I thought it should go.
What I thought detachment meant: Not letting myself be vulnerable enough to feel love so that it wouldn't hurt so much when the relationship didn't turn out how I thought it should.
What I think it means now: Being vulnerable enough to fall in love and to allow myself to feel deeply hurt. Really feeling the moments of love and equally feeling the moments of hurt. Releasing expectations about how I think the other person should be behaving and what I think the relationship should look like now or in the future.
Example 2: Creating something (painting something, hosting an event, developing a product, etc.)
How attachment to outcome can create suffering: I expect that the outcome of creation will turn out a certain way (my painting will look like this... this many people will show up to my event...people will respond to my product this way...) and it doesn't turn out how I thought it should.
What I thought detachment meant: Trying not to care about what other people think about me and my work.
What I think it means now: Creating for the love of the process instead of attachment to the outcome of my craft. If I paint, I practice loving the process of painting versus the finished product. If I teach a yoga class, I practice loving the process of teaching versus the external validation of how many people show up.
Example 3: Working with a client
How attachment to outcome can create suffering: I want his/her life to turn out a certain way and it doesn't turn out how I thought it should.
What I thought detachment meant: Caring less about my clients' lives so I care less about how things turn out. Not letting myself feel their pain with them so that I won't feel more pain than I have to.
What I think it means now: Caring deeply about my clients' lives without thinking that I know what the outcome of their life should be. Practicing deep empathy - allowing myself to really feel excitement and pain with them one moment and practicing being able to release it the next moment.
I'll leave you with a quote from my teacher which I think sums up this whole concept of practicing detachment beautifully:
"We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go." - Rolf Gates