Practicing Non-Attachment without Becoming Detached

The concepts of attachment and non-attachment are mentioned several times in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Asana, on the other hand, is only mentioned as a preparation for meditation.  So though most people think asana is the be-all and end-all in yoga, practicing non-attachment is significantly more important.  But what is non-attachment, exactly, and what does it imply about how we relate to our world?

The sutras say raga—attachment—is neither good nor bad.  In fact, it’s an important part of human survival.  If it weren’t for attachment, I’m pretty sure my parents would have strangled me by the age of thirteen. In spite of that, the sutras warn, attachment can lead to suffering.

Not too many people argue with the fact that being attached to money or possessions can cause suffering.  But this whole idea of being non-attached to people, ideals, or outcomes? Well, that seems to be tougher.  The prevailing question is always the same: How can I be non-attached without becoming detached?

Personally, I don’t see the problem; the two concepts are completely different.  Non-attachment implies being of this world, but not caught up in it. Detachment, on the other hand implies withdrawing from the world, either in an effort to avoid its complications or because we simply don’t care.

When we are non-attached, we practice; we love; we help others. And we work to leave our best mark in the world. But we do so knowing that the outcome may be different than we envision, and we are OK with that. We’re not tied up in the specific results.

For example, I can practice yoga faithfully without caring if I ever get my foot behind my head; I can accept the actions of my friends and family even when they treat me differently than I would hope; I can give of my time and energy to others—and still feel good about it—even if they choose a different path than I think they should.  All while remaining at peace. I give to the world with a full heart regardless of the outcome, because I know that, in the long term, things generally turn out as they should.

Detachment, on the other hand, implies an uncaring numbness—a hollowness in relation to the world around us. When we are detached, we feel separate from others; we lack empathy; we feel defeated.  We may experience this as indifference, depression, self-importance, aloofness, or even numbness. But the result is inevitably the same. When I am detached, the world exists, but I don’t connect with it. I don’t take action; I don’t practice; in fact, I don’t do much of anything.  Why would I bother?

A life of detachment feels desolate; one of non-attachment, serene. Our world will be a much better place when it is overflowing with active, compassionate, non-attachment.  Only then can we find harmony and peace.

What are your thoughts? Please post a comment below.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

8 thoughts on “Practicing Non-Attachment without Becoming Detached

  1. Laurel

    Great article Tracy! It brings up a lot of issues I wrestle with. In regards to the non-attachment vs. detachment debate, I appreciate you differentiating the two. I find that being ‘non-attached’ still involves a level of awareness and an ability to pay attention that being ‘detached’ does not include. Through awareness we foster curiosity and develop understanding, helping us embrace the world without strangling it or trying to control it.

    Reply
  2. Whole Life Yoga Post author

    So well written, Lauren.
    “Through awareness we foster curiosity and develop understanding, helping us embrace the world without strangling it or trying to control it.”

    Reply
  3. Tiger

    Love the concept. Most of us are way too attached to material things. Non-attachment may take some effort, but it’s a goal to shoot for. Great blog.

    Reply
  4. eJ

    it is kind f funny how much not caring can do for you personally, some might call that non attachment others might call it being stuck up. But not having an agenda about how things should be is one of the best things a person can do for themselves and those around them.

    I practice it and it helps me live a more productive and stress free life. Thanks for the reminder

    Reply
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  6. Solana

    Hi Tracy!
    Thank you for this blog! I’m curious as to which Yoga Sutra this refers to more specifically?
    I’m trying to find a sutra closely related to the idea of no expectations, or non-attachment to the results/outcome.

    Thank you!

    Reply

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