How often can you be non-attached?

Today is March 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often can you be non-attached?”


At first glance this question might seem contrary to navigating the chaos. Addressing personal issues, resolving internal conflicts, or accomplishing professional success would seem to involve a great deal of attachment. Those navigating the chaos need to focus on a goal, learn to overcome obstacles, and defeat others at all costs. But navigating the chaos of life involves non-attachment far more than people realize.


The concept of non-attachment dates back to The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, a collection of 196 Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE by Patanjali in India who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions and introduced the concept of Vairāgya or non-attachment.


Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati noted: “The word 'non-attachment' does not really exist in English, but it exists in Sanskrit in the form of vairagya, meaning to be free from attachment, without rejecting anything. It represents a state of mind that is continuously observing the nature of events and is unaffected. Non-attachment can easily be developed provided we can expand our awareness to see the reality behind things.”


Vairāgya (वैराग्य) is a Sanskrit term used in Hindu that roughly translates as dispassion, detachment, or renunciation, in particular renunciation from the pains and pleasures in the temporary material world. The Hindu philosophers who advocated vairāgya told their followers that it is a means to achieve moksha (emancipation, enlightenment, liberation, and release).


The word vairagya is composed of two words: raga meaning attraction and vimeaning not to be affected. Vi is a prefix which in combination with ragameans 'not being affected by attraction'.


It goes without saying that once we are attracted to something, the possessive qualities of our nature and ego manifest. Sometimes that attraction can be positive, sometimes negative. We have to look at things from their positive as well as their negative aspect. When attraction is negative it is limiting; when attraction is positive it is freeing. It gives a different vision of things.


“One interpretation of vairagya is that our consciousness is typically ‘colored’ by our attachments,” wrote long-time yoga teacher Richard Rosen, “whether they are objects, other people, ideas, or other things.” Each human being has attachments influencing the identification of ourselves as well as with others. “Through vairagya, we ‘bleach’ our consciousness of these colorings. This isn't to say we have to abandon our possessions, friends, or beliefs; we just have to recognize their transitory nature and be ready to surrender them at the appropriate time.”


American actor Jon Hamm provides a modern day example. Hamm was attached to his dream of acting and learned how to let it go. Both of Hamm’s parents died before he was 21 years old. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Hamm returned to his high school to teach eighth-grade acting. Attached to the desire to act for a living, Hamm moved out to Los Angeles with $150 in 1995. His older appearance made it difficult to find employment, however, and after three years his agent dropped him. Still attached to his goal of acting, Hamm continued working as a waiter and set his 30th birthday as a deadline to succeed in Hollywood.


His belief was that “You either suck that up and find another agent, or you go home and say you gave it a shot, but that's the end of that. The last thing I wanted to be out here was one of those 45-year-old actors with a tenuous grasp of their own reality, and not really working much.” He gave himself permission to be non-attached to his dream and in doing so allowed things to happen. Soon thereafter he landed the role of the advertising executive Don Draper in the AMC drama series Mad Men, which premiered in July 2007.


The Draper role earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series in 2008. Reflecting back upon his experiences Hamm believes that “Losing both parents at a young age gave me a sense that you can't really control life - so you'd better live it while it's here. All you can do is push in a direction and see what comes of it.”


American spiritual teacher Ram Dass wrote “A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.”


When you find yourself attached to something, how often can you let it go? Do you maintain the self-awareness to realize that when you are attached that is your clue that there is work to be done?