Things and people are not yours to possess: practicing non-attachment

Aparigraha or non-attachment is an essential moral guideline in yoga philosophy (yamas). It’s an important principle for me, it changed my views and led me to reconsider my relationship with myself and the world.

Buddha said that the root of suffering is attachment. But what does attachment really mean? Attachment is clinging onto things and people as a way to seek comfort and happiness. I believe that, to truly understand the importance of non attachment, it is important to understand two things:

The inevitable and inherent truth of it all is that nothing is permanent and that everything eventually ends

The world and other people are fundamentally never ours to control

We have only a limited amount of time we get to spend on earth, it is our nature to age a bit more everyday and in the end, to die. Whatever situation we are in today will not remain the exact same tomorrow. This impermanence is a blessing in disguise, it allows us to fully trust that everything can and will change. 

While change is our very own nature, we humans are constantly fighting against impermanence. Impermanence is scary, it means we can never surely know what tomorrow will bring. It also means we can never rest assured of anything. And that’s what we think we need: constant reassurance, stability and security in everything. It makes us cling onto things and people: relationships, jobs, material goods, hoping that they will last forever.

The real reason is simple: deep down we are living in fear. We fear abandonment and loss, as it makes us suffer. We do everything we can to avoid this suffering

“Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life and yet less attached to it”

– Ram dass
Non-attachment in relationships

When we like something or someone we want to make them ours, possibly forever. Why? 

Just like we see a beautiful flower in a park and want to pick it, we meet beautiful people and want to make them ours. We can’t just enjoy them and set them free, we need to have them give us guarantees, we need to possess, to own, to claim rights, to control. We cling and cling and we even call it love. It seems normal to some of us, but it really isn’t. We invest emotions and memories in our possessions, we give them deep meaning. It doesn’t necessarily make us happy, but drives us slightly mad. Why wouldn’t it? We fight for permanence in a forever changing world, it’s a lost battle.

Many of our cultures recognize forms of attachment as established, traditional forms of affirming, guaranteeing, validating relationships or situations. Take marriage for example, if we simplify it it is nothing but two people promising to love each other through everything forever. The idea is sweet and beautiful, but is it truly realistic? Is it truly serving us?

Clinging creates heavy burdens to carry, especially in relationships. It sets unrealistic expectations. When things or people then change, it leaves us with disappointment and hurt. Here we are, suffering after all, when all we did was try to avoid it. 

We want and seek guarantees but there are never any guarantees in life. Absolutely no one knows what their desires and intentions will be months or years from now. We are all that is guaranteed: and ourselves we endlessly change physically, emotionally and spiritually. Unacknowledging the never ending evolving nature of everything is almost an insult to it. 

Non-attachment will set you free

Rather than clinging onto things hoping they will last forever, and onto people hoping our relationships with them will last forever, we need to learn to deal with the moments as they arise. Non-attachment is the only way to truly live and love but it’s very, very, very difficult for us to understand. 

If we do things, get involved with people knowing that everything can and will change, we free ourselves from pressure and expectations. We can easily see how things unfold naturally. We can also easily free ourselves from expectations and disappointments. 

Non attachment is not indifference, it’s rather the absence of fear. Once you understand you only lose what you are attached to, you’ll be able to understand that only non attachment will truly free you. Non attachement is our best shot at avoiding unnecessary sufferings.

How to practice non attachment
  • Live in the present moment 

Welcome what comes, let go of what goes. If something good happens, let it. If something bad happens, let it. When something good happens, enjoy it and don’t overthink it, don’t try to make it last forever. When something bad happens, remember it won’t last forever. Don’t claim ownership or rights over things and people. See how things change around you once you start living mindfully. 

  • Let go of what no longer serves you

Learn to recognize situations or people who no longer serve you. Wish them well and let them go. You can be a kind person and still set boundaries and distance yourself from things / people who don’t do you any good. It is healthy, and it is normal.

  • Recognize impermanence around you and allow yourself to change

Slow down if needed, observe and recognize how absolutely everything or everyone arounds you constantly changes. Some changes will appear good, some will appear bad. Sometimes it will be easy, sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes you will suffer, sometimes you’ll feel your suffering being eased. It all works in duality: it’s called balance. Embrace change, allow yourself to change, allow things around you to change.

  • Know yourself and your purpose 

This is a lifelong journey, and it’s only yours. Experience and self awareness will help you. Once you start understanding who you are and what your purpose is, you’ll easier understand the world around you as well. 

  • Use of mantras and self reflection

Self reflection is not only helpful, it is essential. Sit back, observe your thoughts and emotions, see what you already know and what you can improve. Mantras can be very helpful to go through situations, face and accept things by simply affirming them. Let’s say you are hurt and you feel lonely, you may want to repeat yourself the simple affirmation: “I am loved”. Don’t underestimate the power of positive self-talk and mantras. Find what better works for you and give it a try. 

  • Accept and take responsibility for your own happiness

When you place your happiness in the hands of other people, you give them the power to destroy you. Only you are responsible for your own happiness, not anyone else. Repeat. Whatever you need, is already within yourself.

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