By Caryn Glass
1. Indifference to other people or one’s surroundings; the state of being aloof
2. The condition of being disengaged or separated, disconnection
I’ve always struggled with the idea of detachment. Perhaps it has something to do with the way the word is actually defined by English dictionaries: aloof, disengaged, disconnected. Not the slightest bit appealing by those terms! To me, the meaning of detachment was simply not dealing with your emotions. If I pretended I wasn’t afraid, for example, if I acted detached from it, fear would eventually just disappear. Like a lot of people, I would say things like “everything happens for a reason” or “they’re in a better place now” in an effort to feel better and overcome hurt, pain and fear. In fact, trying to be detached often made me more confused about what I did feel, which inevitably led me down the path of frustration and anger.
It wasn’t until I began my yoga teaching certification that I started to learn that detachment wasn’t simply a word but a path, a conscious way of living. I sat patiently in front of a newly ordained Buddhist monk as she sat perfectly cross-legged on her mat, with her flowing monk robes and her newly shaven head, waiting for her to share secrets of enlightenment with me. She shared a lot of beautiful things with my class that day, but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment as I folded up my mat. While the talk was inspiring, it left me with the idea that the concepts and experiences she spoke of were completely out of my reach. I could barely get through an entire Vinyasa flow class, didn’t know a lick of Sanskrit, and wasn’t about to shave my head! A part of me, in an effort to avoid any more disappointment, simply gave up on the notion of detachment. Yet the idea of being able to channel your thoughts and emotions in a way that allows you to be free from them seemed like something that would serve a great many of us.
Jump forward with me to the present, where I recently read an article in a magazine that changed everything for me. It explained that detachment is not the act of trying to deny emotion; there is no need to punish yourself for the things you feel. Instead, the article said, we should acknowledge our feelings. Only when we have truly acknowledged what we feel, can we let that feeling go. It seems so darn simple and NATURAL when it’s put like that! So, I tried it. When I feel afraid, I acknowledge my fear by stating “I’m afraid.” It’s incredible how immediately pressure and tension evaporate. It becomes easier to tap into centered thoughts and to find my breath. Calm returns and I move forward. The fact is, sometimes difficult, confusing, bad things happen in this life. It’s in those moments that our practice of detachment and acceptance is truly challenged. So what do we do when things feel totally out of control? Let me introduce you to another definition of detachment.
2. Total surrender to a higher power
Yes, it’s Sanskrit, but bear with me for a second. In the Yoga Sutra (kind of like the yoga Bible) written by Patanjali, he offers several meanings for Isvara Prandihana. The first concept of detachment concerns making the best effort you can in the face of any obstacle, but not being attached to the outcome. The second meaning refers to surrender, complete surrender to a higher power. In other words, releasing our attachment to control. This idea of total surrender does not in any way mean that you’ve become passive about your circumstances, but rather more trusting in the natural order of things. Life and death, health and sickness, love and heartbreak are all a part of it. It doesn’t mean that “everything will work out for the best,” but that regardless of the outcome, even if it’s hard or painful, you will face it with deep acceptance.
In the most trying of times, I’ve found a great tool for detachment has been reconnecting to my Inner Resource. An Inner Resource can be any quality or image that you associate with a force greater than yourself. This could be a person, a symbol, something in nature, or a quality such as compassion or joy. Whatever you choose, it should be energetically positive and something that resonates with you. Once this image or quality is clear, take time to sit and breath. As you inhale, imagine absorbing your Inner Resource and filling yourself up with that image. Then, as you exhale, imagine that feeling emanating throughout your entire body and outward. Repeat your breath as few or as many times as needed. Maybe even add a gentle sun salutation to it. Afterward, sit quietly for a moment and breathe comfortably.
As you move forward, remember that this resource is always with you and is always there to support you. Remember that your feelings and emotions are real and completely natural. Know that the first step in moving past your obstacles and the feelings that accompany them is acknowledging what you feel and accepting your circumstances as well as all possible outcomes. Most importantly, remember to breath.