A big source of suffering for many modern citizens is over attachment to things in the real world. This may be objects, maybe it’s a person or the way they feel about you, or maybe you can’t let go of something that happened in the past. The act of letting go is essential in the path of personal growth.
This week, we will be focusing our attention on the act of non-attachment, or letting go. To begin, let’s bring our attention to the many ways that you may be engaging in this negative behavior.
What do we attach to?
Outcomes: A lot of times, we may catch ourselves in a situation where we are anticipating an outcome. This may be on things like awaiting a certain response to a question you asked someone, or it can be something like expecting that you will arrive somewhere on time because you left the house early. Truth is, it is unnecessary to hold on to outcomes of certain events as the way the world works is completely out of your control. Traffic, other people, and nature are 3 things that are completely out of our control and we often expect things from them.
Feelings and thoughts: We will sometimes feel a certain way and begin to judge ourselves because we don’t desire to feel like that.
- In example, sometimes people will feel really sad. When people are sad they usually have a hard time getting motivated to do something. This can lead to thoughts of disappointment and frustration. A lot of emotions are followed by a string of judgmental thoughts for why we should not be feeling a certain way. It is important to feel and except the way that your emotions without judgement. Let go of judgmental thoughts surrounding them.
Material things: This is the most obvious thing that humans get attached to. It’s easy to feel like a certain item completes you, when, in reality, everything we need is already inside of us. We may need clothes for warmth, a house for shelter, and food and water for sustenance, but everything on top of that is extra. Being attached to material things ties us down, and often makes us distracted in a way that we can’t really experience the world to its full potential.
- For example, let’s say you go out with a really nice car, when you park it before going to do a certain activity. You worry about it being scratched or stolen the entire time your out doing this activity, and thus, you can’t fully experience the activity you chose to do.
People and relationships: Just as we can’t expect possessions to make us feel whole, we should never expect others to make us feel whole either. Doing this can lead to extreme pain once this person leaves us. We must find what makes us complete inside of ourselves because when someone decides to leave us, it will leave us lost. We also must remember that we are mortal beings, and that one day, we will all pass on. Being attached to people can make it hard to let go of those who leave us either through death or other circumstances like distance.
The past: Much like we must let go of the things we expect will happen in the future, we must let go of the things that have already happened in the past. Things in the future haven’t happened yet, thus we have no control over them. Things in the past have already happened, thus, we no longer have control over them. The only moment we can control is the present moment. Let go of the past and present and focus all of your minds energy on this present moment.
Our Identities: We are born pure and untainted by the world and the people around us. After a few years go by, we begin to be influenced by the other people growing around us. we begin to engage in after school activities that shape our interests, our parents pose expectations and their own visions of our future on us, and we begin to label ourselves to figure out who we are. All of this over the years of life begin to make us believe that we are a certain person. We define ourselves by the clothes we wear and the sports we play and the goals we set. Our true selves are underneath all of that desire and expectation. Letting go of our identity can free us to pure experience, non-expectation, and understanding of our true nature.
My Personal Experience:
Just like all of you, I too need to practice letting go of things that cause me pain and no longer serve me. Right now, my practice is letting go of expectations that I set for myself, and that others have set for me as well.
For the last few years, I was on track to study mechanical engineering. I was so sure that I wanted to do this with my life until I realized that I was just doing it for reasons that didn’t fulfill me. I wanted to study in college to live up to societies standards of success, I didn’t want to disappoint my family, and I also needed a degree to feel accomplished, and feel like I knew what I was doing with my life. Truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing! It became hard for me to study and complete the classes I had registered for because it was not what I truly wanted to do!
I then attended yoga teacher training and my whole world changed. I realized I wanted my career to be my practice. I struggled, and still struggle with the fact that I dropped out of college to study yoga and holistic health. Even just typing “I dropped out of college” is difficult as I have not fully let go of the feelings surrounding this decision. I was worried of what others would think of me for choosing this alternative path. My practice, thus, is letting go of those feelings of shame and disappointment for myself and knowing that if I’m a peace with my choice, thats all that matters.
I desire to let go of the validation I need form my family and from society. I desire to let go of all of the judgements I hold for myself and that others may hold for me because I know that my true self wants this. My true self knows that this is the path I need to take. My practice is acceptance for who I am and letting go of what I’m not.
Looking back, I realized that I had let being a student in college become my identity. More specifically, my desire to be an engineer became my identity. So my true practice is letting go of my ego, knowing that what I study, how much money I make, and what I “accomplish” does not make me who I am.
We as humans are so much more than what we expect ourselves to be. Let go of your “identity”, of what makes you, “you” …just be a human.
How Can You Practice Letting Go?:
Write it down: Journaling is a great way to get things off of your chest. Sometimes, we get too caught up in the moment of attachment that we can’t take a step back and detach from emotions or expectations. You can try to write down what it is that you are hanging on to and then tearing the paper out of the journal and burning it or throwing it in the trash. My favorite thing to do is to write down my limiting thoughts down on a dissolving piece of paper, and then immerse it in water to watch it disappear. I like the physical representation of something disappearing.
Meditation: Meditation is a powerful tool for many practices. It enables one to become completely present and aware of the present moment. Usually, when you are aware and in your body, you are able to focus inward and really access what is going on. Meditating, in the case of letting-go, can bring us back to the present moment if we start tell to ourselves stories about the past or the present.
- Sit in a comfortable seat with he spine long and stacked. You may also lay down in corpse pose if that is more comfortable for you. Begin to bring the awareness to your breath. Think of nothing else but this action that occurs inside of you that brings you life. Bring awareness to the way the belly lifts and falls and the way the chest expands and contracts. Practice letting go of the thoughts that come up in your mind. Place them on a little cloud in your mind, and watch as they float away.
Stop and listen: One of my biggest practices is not needing to add my opinion in every conversation. I often find myself completely consumed in the need to share my own opinion, and this doesn’t let me really listen or experience the conversation as it is. I propose that you practice listening, and letting go of that need to respond. Just be silent and smile, maybe responding to let the person know that you are listening and engaged when they are speaking, but no longer adding or debating when you feel like you need to say something. Let go of the need to say something. This is hard at first, but remember, it is a practice.
Sort your things: Pick a section of your home that you wish to declutter. Pull everything out and lay it on the floor. Make 3 piles; keep pile, donate pile, and trash pile. Pick each item up and ask yourself these three questions…
- Does this item serve me? if yes then keep
- Does this item make me happy? if yes then keep
- Who would benefit more from this item than me? Should you donate the item or maybe give it to a friend or family member?
Letting go of material possession is such a powerful thing to do. You become detached from the responsibility of “ownership. This enables you to really appreciate things more deeply for their ability to make you truly happy.
Journal about yourself without using labels: this last great practice that I am offering is one that I experienced during my yoga teacher training. We were asked to write about who we were (or who we think we are) without using labels.
Matthew B. James, Ph.D. of Psychology Today states,
“As human beings, we are quick to identify ourselves using our circumstances; how others perceive us, our behaviors, and/or our positions in life. It’s somehow comforting to clothe ourselves in these identities. But none of those are really who we are. And the problem with latching onto these identities is, in addition to limiting our growth, it leaves us lost and confused when they are stripped from us.”
I like this because we often will label ourselves as part of a group, or within a role that implies we need to act a certain way or do certain things. Latching on to labels like “mother” or “athlete” in the end inhibits growth and creates pain once they are no longer ours. Instead, write things about yourself without those labels. Here are a few examples of how I would describe myself with a label and then the counter…
- I am a blogger ~ I like to write about yoga philosophy to help others that are interested in personal growth
- I am a traveler ~ I am someone who loves to travel and discover new things
- I am a photographer ~ I am someone who enjoys getting out in nature and taking pictures of what I see
I will be practicing non-attachment this week along with you guys! I hope that you all find your own attachment behaviors and habits and that you can release them to peel the layer of the onion covering up the true you!