I was first introduced to the concept of “Non-Attachment” by my spiritual director a number of years ago. She often would encourage me to sit with my desire and take a posture of openness and non-attachment to the outcome. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Being a high feeler while also deeply analytical, there has been a lot invitations for me to practice this – lots of attachments over here!
Many religious and spiritual traditions have a similar concept or practice to what I’m talking about here, just perhaps different wording. Some call it “acceptance, letting go, surrender, detachment” etc. But they all ultimately point us to the same thing.
Over the years my spiritual practice has evolved and morphed, and I have discovered this practice of non-attachment to be one where a deep peace and openness to the world sets in. I am still very much a rookie and learner in this way, but as we globally sit and wade through the waters of this pandemic, I have felt the invitation to really open up to the possibility that comes from loosening my grip on my attachments.
My spiritual practice is often about becoming more awake. Becoming more awake to God, to myself, creation, to the present moment and to you, those who I encounter each day. It also means I wake up more to what drives me, what frustrates me, what controls me. I wake up to my desires, to my fears, and to what I seek to control. I become more aware of my need to be certain and to know the path ahead, to be safe, healthy and able bodied. To feel a certain way in my work, to understand love, to make meaning out of my solitude, to create and write beautiful things. The list goes on, as you can imagine.
Becoming more awake sounds blissful and wonderful, and sure there are moments of that. I don’t want to live any other way. But once we learn something, and become aware, we can’t unlearn it. We can’t un-see it. It calls us to respond, in some way. This awareness is good, but it isn’t the end of it.
The thing about non-attachment is that it doesn’t mean we stop caring, or we detach ourselves from the things that stir in us desire or emotional distress. It doesn’t mean that we are not invested or connected. On the contrary. In a paraphrase by Jonathan Foust on not attaching to non-attachment he says, “Non-attachment is different than apathy, indifference or emotional detachment. This practice helps us cultivate compassion and open heartedness to the world.”
See, we are still deeply moved by suffering, and inspired to respond to it. We are still lovers of material and people. We are still creative and ambitious creatures – but we become less attached to the outcomes of our endeavours towards these things, and become a people who can enjoy, play and find pleasure in our days.
Foust goes on to say, whatever it is you feel yourself trying to control or expect something to go a certain way, instead of trying so hard to “let it go”, what would happen if we “let it be”? Can’t you feel the difference in your body when you sink into the letting it be, rather than trying so hard to let it go? There is an expansion that happens. The chest opens broader, and our breathing eases and slows. There is a sense of everything is how it ought to be, even when rationally or emotionally it doesn’t always feel that way. There is a deeper knowing, a divine knowing within each of us that succumbs to that gentle Presence of “okay-ness”. This is non-attachment.
“the practice: freedom” by Danielle Doby
i am not in control of what lessons
others are here to learn
i am not in control of what lessons
others are here to teach me
when i try to control
when i try to tight grasp
when i try to bend and force
and push others somewhere
they’re not ready for
or maybe, do not even belong
i separate myself from trusting in the nature of all
that all is given
to bring us closer to love
all is given
to call us back home
There really is a space that exists where we can live from this open hearted, vulnerable, and peaceful posture. There is this sacred middle that is so subtle and quiet it can be so easy to miss. It requires a slowing down and quieting oneself to sense it. For me, it is cultivated by creating a generous space in my life to harness self awareness, where I become honest with myself, and take notice of the attachments and motivations within me. It all begins by naming those things, owning them, befriending them and welcoming them. And if we go a little deeper, underneath that first layer, we begin to see the deeper drives and feelings underneath that layer. And then the next. And then the next. And these layers inform us, they show us what we most care about.
Once you can take notice of what has been uncovered and revealed to you, it is important (and this is very important) to extend loving kindness and compassion to yourself. Because those things do not need to be abandoned by you or scolded by you for feeling them – they need to be nurtured and cared for. And once you’ve become softer towards all that is in yourself, open your hands as a posture of surrender and openness, and just sit with the words, “I too, let this be.” Perhaps then we will awaken just a little bit more to the moment and gift of now.
Do you have a spiritual practice? What does that look like for you? If not, are there ways you feel opened up to something beyond yourself? Are there things you feel a particular attachment to in this moment? How might you begin to loosen your grip on that, and let it just be in your life?
“Just Beyond Yourself”
Half a step
and the rest
There is a road
When you see
the two sides
at that far horizon
and deep in
of your own
it’s the road
how you know.
need to be.