The topic of the week – “Vairagya”, the term in yoga philosophy that describes non-attachment. The term “yoga” itself comes from the verb “to yoke”, to be steadfast with something versus clinging to things out of fear. How often don’t we feel we have to ¨go for the kill¨ or ¨wrap our heads/arms around something.¨All these sayings stem from wanting something, grasping for it and then holding on tight.
Vairagya refers to our ability to let go of things, to leave them be, as well as to go for a challenge while at the same time, renouncing the fruits of our labor. We need both action and inaction in our lives to remain balanced, and the practice of vairagya has us abstain from getting too attached. To play it cool as it were. Clinging to thought patterns, people or things is the closest to what could be considered a sin in yoga philosophy. Basically, it shows lack of faith in that we are eternally provided for.
How is that? There certainly isn’t any roof that a heavenly handout will materialize as soon as we let go of our attachments. But that is the definition of faith, isn’t it – the fact that we must believe without any assurance of desired outcome?
We can all agree that being flexible and having an ability to let go of an issue, a regret or an obsession is a good thing. We are so much happier when we don’t stare ourselves blind over something we want, or a problem we can’t immediately solve. What I’d like to do here is explore a little further the lesser discussed virtue of vairagya, which is what it does to us as people.
Loosening your grip on things makes you a less fearful person. Letting go reminds you that life is temporal and that being able to hold on to anything is an illusion. Enjoyment of the moment is all you have until that moment is gone – so that you may enjoy the next one. Non-attachment lets you love people without glomming on to them, expecting them to love you in return. In this mental place, fear loosens its grip on you because you enter situations without neither anticipation of what will happen, nor bracing yourself for the worst. Your actions become a true expression of who you are, over being directed by your thoughts of what they will give you.
Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. Attaching myself to the idea that I should sleep only makes it worse. I’m attached to my sleep (as well as attached to the beauty that will surely vanish quickly if I don’t get my sleep…!) Below are the practices I do to open up and change my perspective in those moments, and I find that they can be applied to anything that I am attached to. Feel free to try this self-talk – I hope it will work for you too:
- First, use your breath to help you. Say “let go” to yourself. “Let” on the inhale, and “go” on the “exhale”. If you, like me, use it for sleep, know that it’s also OK just to be resting and not sleeping. When you are tired enough, you will sleep (and maybe you are just someone who has a lot of energy and that’s why you are still up?)
- Second, there is a gift housed in each situation where you think you are about to lose something. The gift differs depending on the situation but the gift of learning is universal to most of them. Ask yourself, “what am I learning now?”
- Lastly, clinging prevents you from expanding. Holding on so tightly to what you already have or hope to gain, blinds you to what else is available to you.
Say to yourself, “although uncomfortable, I’m expanding now.”
In conclusion, I quote the great yogi Patanjali, when he said, “don’t be addicted to anything, but if you have to be addicted to something, be addicted to yoga.” If you practice on the mat, or simply ¨yoke¨ yourself to best practices as it were, is up to you… All perhaps in today’s world and in our glorious humanity we will always have to fight our urge to control circumstances. Patanjali’s advice to cling to the yogic way of non-attachment may be our best bet in directing our fear and letting go. Either way, when you feel clingy – vairagya will free you up any time you are willing to practice it.
Please let me know how you do.