drsta anushavrika vishya vitrashnasya vashikara samjna vairagyam
Nonattachment is the mastery of desire for perceived external objects, as well as for internal spiritual objects, heard or revealed.
I'm attached. I'm attached all over the place. And I openly and frankly love my attachments. I love David and my girls. I love my Mom and Dad and brother and sisters and their children. I love my students and my friends. I love the Earth and Space. I love my home, my garden, our neighbors. And of course there's coffee. I really love coffee. I'm attached to coffee. Seriously attached.
So does this mean I'm screwed? Does this mean that I have to learn to not love the things I love in order to reach "mastery?" No way, Jose. I'm a karmi — a worldly worldling. I was put here to be of the world and to figure out a way to enjoy it and see the gorgeous beauty in it. So how to interpret this particular sutra?
I happen to have an instructive little tale right here in my back pocket.
When Lucy was a two, she received a stuffed pink pig whom she promptly named Piggy Rosa. Piggy Rosa went everywhere with us. Even into public toilets where I lived in mortal fear of Piggy Rosa's death by drowning because of my callous refusal to reach into the potty and save her. This, however, did not come to pass, and Piggy lived a comfortable well-loved life among us all. She became another family member sitting at the dinner table with us, listening kindly without interrupting. We spoke of her and to her inclusively. However, her life was not without adventure. There were several scares.
One morning we left Piggy Rosa in a shopping cart at Trader Joe's. It was pouring rain and after noticing her absence we drove back through what appeared to be a hurricane in order to search through all shopping carts. She couldn't be found. Lucy's concern began to turn to upset. My upset began to turn to despair. I was letting Lucy down. After checking in the store and not finding Piggy, I began preparing my speech. It would be Lucy's initiation into the world of loss and impermanence. As we sat in the car in the rain, I suddenly saw Piggy Rosa's head sticking out of a worker's back pocket! The clouds parted. The sun shone. All was well again in our home.
And then came the inevitable.
Piggy Rosa disappeared. Gone. Into the ether. I thought about making LOST posters with a considerable reward. I called my sister Jennifer for advice.
"Buy a new one," she said reasonably. And then gave me the name of the store where she had purchased it.
"We'll have to wait a week or so," I said, my heart squeezing in my chest as Lucy waited by my side, tears welling in her eyes.
"She'll live," she said.
Now at this point I must insert that the frantic quality of the search was not engendered by Lucy herself, but rather her Mother, who felt deeply frightened in her very core, that the loss of little Piggy Rosa would be a trauma beyond repair for her beautiful three year old child.
Jennifer said: "Better buy two. One for her and one for you."
After calling every toy store in the Bay Area I couldn't find her. So I tried to find the Piggy Rosa outlet and after several cross Continental calls, one call to Taiwan and lastly a call to Canada, I located what appeared to be the last two Piggy Rosa's on the planet. We had to wait over four days for the arrival of the box and when at last we had new Piggy Rosa ensconced, I felt I could breathe easier. Lucy may well have forgotten about Piggy Rosa in those four days had I not freaked out so intensely. (Two weeks later I was shopping at Whole Foods and saw about six Piggy Rosa's just hanging out on the shelf like it was nothing at all.)
Now who was attached? Lucy was, but she was three and would have gotten over her attachment quite readily had I not asserted my own attachments and fears. My attachment was not over Piggy Rosa, cute as she is, but rather for my daughter and her well-being. And as hysterical as I inwardly got (and maybe a little on the outside too), I was doing what I was put here to do. I was protecting and mothering my child. I will do anything to protect and love my family. So what to do with the concept of non-attachment when your world revolves around household, family and Planet Earth?
I think it's all a matter of degrees. Lucy at eight has become seriously disinterested in the welfare of Piggy Rosa, as have I. She has become attached to other things. As have I. But as we progress on our path, we learn that detaching from the perceived value of things and ideas is natural and can happen without losing anything at all. For example, I used to really hold on to the idea that there was an Adam and an Eve and a snake and a tree and an apple and a big punishment and that belief informed a lot of what I thought and did and didn't do. I am no longer attached or informed by that idea. I am still very much attached, enmeshed, entangled and in love with my family, but as we grow together we are all trying to let individuation happen naturally and to accept the revelation of Selfhood in each other without imposing our desires or attachments. It's just little steps.
Patanjali very shrewdly includes the idea, which he restates several times, that it is not only people and things that we can attach to in an unhealthy way, but also the very search for the Divine itself can become so driven and single minded that it distorts into a narcissistic obsession. I don't think I've ever looked for God quite so frantically and with such hot pursuit as I did in looking for Piggy Rosa. I certainly haven't called Taiwan in search of the Divine. But I am versed in obsessions and diversions and I thank the practice of Yoga for gently and persistently righting my course.
And to dear Piggy Rosa. I am sorry. I am going to find you at the bottom of the closet right now. I am going to give you a bath and put you in a box for that wonderful moment when Lucy is older and finds you and remembers all that wonderful attachment with fondness.
What does the word non-attachment mean to you?
What are you most attached to in your life? (Don't think to hard, just answer fast!)
How can you apply the word nonattachment to the thing, person, or quality that you are most attached?