Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the matter of attachment

When I was doing my month-long training to become a yoga instructor, a vast amount of information was presented, more than I could fully absorb and process in such a short time span, so I had to parcel certain topics off for future pondering. One particular area that I've returned to over and over again is aparigraha, one of the yamas, or restraints that make up the first of the eight limbs of yoga. I've seen aparigraha translated as non-possessiveness, non-covetousness, and, for me, the one that struck the greatest chord of all, non-attachment.

Aparigraha is the last of the five yamas, following ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) and brahmacharya (restraint of the sexual energies). I get the first four, really and truly, even brahmacharya, which, if you know me at all, might sound shocking ;-p Get your mind out of the gutter!!! I just mean to say that I have a great appreciation for sensuality and sexuality, so while the interpretation of brahmacharya as celibacy is more than I could wrap my head around in my own case, the householder's version that gears more toward fidelity and monogamy sits just fine by me. Non-attachment, however, still eludes me, and, I suspect, always will.

I can understand and agree that overt attachment to material objects is ultimately not going to bring fulfillment, and, therefore, is not the best use of one's energy or attention span. If one were attached to a particularly harmful or negative object or tendency, an addiction or obsession of sorts, I can appreciate that it probably isn't serving anyone's highest good. But what about the attachments we form to the people in our lives? How, if you are a householder, which, by the way, is the term used to refer to those of us who attempt to live by the precepts of yoga without going so far as to renounce all our worldly possessions and relationships, do you unattach yourself from the very people who star as main characters in your life story, the people you love, the people who, by knowing you and bearing witness to your journey, help to make it all seem worthwhile and "real"?

I've struggled with this since I was first introduced to the concept, and as I continue along my own householder's journey, I find myself coming up against it in new ways all the time. During my training, there was a moment when I actually allowed the idea of walking away from life as I knew it and heading off to an ashram full time to occupy some prime mental real estate. Thankfully, my favorite swami had the good sense to suggest that I should go back to my home, my husband, my life and spread the teachings of yoga "in the world" rather than unattaching myself from it all. Could he possibly have known that only a few short months after going back to all of that, my world would be turned completely upside down by the end of my marriage? Man, was that ever a serious lesson in non-attachment! It was very hard to let go of the person who was the central focus of my life for so many years, just as it was hard, in a totally different way, to let go of my father after his death another few months down the line. Then there was the letting go of someone who I considered a trusted and treasured friend a couple months after that. All of this builds a case for not getting attached in the first place so that the letting go won't be as painful, but I just don't see how it can be done!

I get attached, and when it comes to the ones who matter most, I get attached in a big way. When I let someone into my heart, they get the benefit, or perhaps in some instances, the burden, of everything that I have to offer. My love and my loyalty are fierce and strong, so when I give them, they bind me to the recipient in an almost visceral way that makes it impossible for me not to feel attached. And the thing is, no matter what the yamas tell me, no matter how much it hurts when such a meaningful connection becomes strained or you have to let it go for good, I don't want to stop attaching myself to the people that truly matter in my life. I wouldn't be me if I didn't love the way that I do.

There was a period of time when I wondered if I was capable of falling in love and attaching myself to someone ever again the way I did with C. I never stopped believing in love, but I wasn't sure if I'd feel inspired to give myself over to it as freely as I had at 22, no matter how much I wanted to. Doubt crept in for a little while, but love is stronger. Love is undeniable. Love, of the being in love variety, has blossomed in my life once again. And if with love comes attachment, so be it. I give myself over freely, attempting to do so without judgment or expectations of myself or the object of my affection, but knowing that I am a far-from-perfect householder, just trying my best to live and love authentically in pursuit of my happily now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Patience IS a virtue

On the matter of patience, first, I must thank my small but loyal following for being patient with me as lately I've been a bit more sporadic than intended with my blog postings. I set out to write on a weekly basis when I first started this blog; however, I haven't upheld that most recently. The flip side of that is I must also be patient with myself when life gets a little busy and not everything gets accomplished as intended. It will get accomplished eventually, and the world will still turn in the meantime. What a valuable lesson I've finally begun to learn!

Patience has been a focal point of mine for quite some time now, though in varying capacities. When I first got serious about my yoga practice, patience, along with compassion, were two intentions that I often set, seeking to cultivate these virtues by meditating on them and incorporating them into my asana practice as well as my daily life. The truth is, for most of my life, I haven't been a very patient person. It's as if I came out of the womb in a hurry, along with the oh-so-lovely attitude of "keep up or don't bother coming along for the ride". I really couldn't tell you where I was rushing to. But from a young age, I was always very eager to move ahead, get on to the next big thing, start something new. There were times when this has served me well, but there have also been times when my speed racer approach to life has not.

When you feel like your world is falling apart around you and you are stuck beneath an impossibly heavy load of negative emotion, patience is not an easy virtue to come by. It is counterintuitive to want to move slowly through the recovery process. Most of us would probably give/do/say anything not to hurt for a moment more than is necessary. We just can't see the point in being patient in the face of pain. But sometimes the very reason that you are experiencing hurt is to have the opportunity to be patient, to sit with feelings that are uncomfortable and get to know yourself a little better from an angle you may not have previously considered. Inevitably you will gain new perspective and insight into your life, what really matters, the person you want to be. Once that process has run its course, if you play it right, you come out the other side of a more patient person in all circumstances, and you never know when that newly acquired virtue is going to come in handy!

In my case, I had a very hard time being patient while my broken heart healed after the end of my marriage. Intellectually, I could appreciate that I had to walk a certain path to recovery, no matter how long it took, but emotionally, I was drained after a relatively short time, and I just wanted to get on with my life. Thankfully, my life had other plans. It forced me to deal with all of the myriad feelings, good and bad, to ride each high and each low, and ultimately, to really begin to cultivate the patience toward myself and others that had eluded me up until then.

And now for the happy ending. . .

I find myself, in this very moment, in a situation where my patience is required. Someone I care very deeply about needs that from me, and instead of cutting off my nose to spite my face due to an inability to be patient, I am finding it surprisingly easy to give what is needed with all the love in my heart. Do you know how good that feels?!?! I hope so, and if you don't have a similar personal experience to draw a comparison from, when your life lays out a path toward one, I truly hope you will be able to follow it through to the end. It is so gratifying to see a shift in yourself that not only makes you feel good, but allows you to give more fully of yourself to the people you hold dear. This is why we practice yoga or read self-help books or do whatever it is that we do to become better people.

Keep fighting the good fight my friends!