Recently, I taught a class in person.
For the first time in months I was in the same physical space as other people practicing.
And, despite all of the (necessary and thoughtful) precautions put in place to keep us safe, we were still able to break through and share an experience that left us feeling euphoric. In fact the true craving for togetherness all of the sudden seemed to make things that, less than a year ago, would have been major inconveniences that we might complain heartily about, completely manageable. Togetherness is a human craving and to satisfy that craving feels positively blissful. It's something that resides much deeper in us mere preferences. And it's something I think we all value a lot more nowadays.
The Lessons in Disappointment
But flash back to last year. Anyone who has practiced at a yoga class in person knows that sometimes the stars align and everything feels just right. The environment is just right - the lights are perfect, the incense smells amazing, the music is on point, and the instructor knows their stuff. You got there with plenty of time and your mind is focused. Your body feels energized and in sync with the vibe in the room.
Oh, and you definitely got your favorite mat spot.
These things are all great when they happen. But like a lot of times in life we're not dealt all the perfect cards for our practice. The class might serve up little aggravations (and opportunities to relax through them.) like feeling rushed as you hurry into class with one minute to spare, or noticing that the person on the mat next to us is taking up what we feel is lot of space, or discovering that the class that we thought was a power vinyasa flow turns out to be a lot of very slow movement that we weren't expecting.
In those situations, we could let it frustrate us and leave.
And some people did.
Maybe you have.
Grasping & Attachment
In yogic philosophy, the Yoga Sutras introduces us to Yama (your things to refrain from) and your Niyamas (your things to observe and engage with) and offers these as practices for living well. One of these concepts is Aparigraha, or non-hoarding. This desire to gobble things up, especially when happy moments and resources feel scarce, is understandable. But hoarding our resources, or even our desires, can cause us to feel super attached, and sets us up for a lot of pain when something goes away or doesn't turn out the way we expected.
In a time when big loss seems to be all around us, it can be helpful to understand what happens when we experience smaller losses. Are we allowing them to feel big? Are we trying to control every little detail because we haven't relaxed with the larger uncontrollable experiences around us?
Grasping for control over things, and outcomes leads to suffering and can dampen our sense of autonomy, and can trick us into thinking that those lost desires were the ONLY thing that could make us happy. If it's so bad, then why do we do it?
Letting go of our attachment to control a situation sometimes feels risky even though it leads to freedom. Our mind is convinced that since we've put a lot of stock into it we have to get busy making up for the loss. Before we know it, we've painted ourselves into a corner. The only other choice we're left with is to feel unhappy with the outcome, right?
But there is another way.
The Invitation to Relax
Let's say we did run into class late, someone took our spot, and our favorite teacher subbed out. The music is off, the lights are too bright, and the sequence isn't anything like we had expected.
We could leave. Or we could roll out the mat and settle in for the ride.
We could relax. We could let go of your expectations.
We could let go of trying to control the outcomes.
We all are, always, continually invited to allow ourselves to experience life the way it unfolds rather than the way we hoped it would.
If nothing else 2020 has made this invitation even more clear.
This scenario plays out in our lives every day - even though it feels magnified now. It could be a meal we're cooking doesn't turn out quite right. Or a business meeting we're planning for doesn't land a deal. It could be a relationship that challenges us, or a big change in our lives. We all have desire for ourselves. But how much of our happiness are we investing in hypothetical outcomes and imagined well-controlled variables rather than the actual here and now?
Notice what you're holding on to. What's the worst that could happen if something doesn't go your way? Believing that we will be okay regardless of the outcome can help us navigate our paths more freely. We learn to see more opportunities that we may have missed if we went through life with blinders on.
Take off your blinders. See the world through the lens of possibility, and you might surprise yourself with your resilience, your resourcefulness, and your ability to bounce back from hardship.
5 Steps to Practicing Non-Attachment In the Moment.
Notice the sensations you feel in your body. Often, our bodies are more aware of our feelings than our minds are.
Like so many Universal truths that seem to exist across spiritual traditions and through cultures and from the mouths of wise people who've passed on, I think the Yoga Sutras were also trying to express that our real power in a moment is in our reaction to what is actually happening rather than what we wished would happen. So before you react, notice how you feel in your physical body.
2. Name your emotions.
Giving something a name can lead to understanding and letting it go. When you begin to feel the tension building, frustration, anger, and fear can take hold. Head them off at the pass. Lessen their power by calling them out. "Oh hey anger, I see you!"
When something is outside of our game plan, is it really the thing that’s making us upset (fear! I'm scared this isn't going to go right)? Or is it actually attachment to an imagined outcome that we actually are mourning (disappointment. Darn it, now this thing I want may not happen).
Get real about what you're feeling and what sensations it leads to in your body.
3. Know yourself (Svadhyaya)
Studying yourself and witnessing yourself in the moment can help you learn your triggers. What situations tend to set you off?
Understand your pressure points and where they come from so you can prepare yourself mentally, or perhaps disarm them all together.
When you begin to feel upset, rather than judge yourself, just let yourself feel ... without acting. There's no shame in having feelings. And having feelings doesn't mean any action needs to take place.
Simple, but always effective. Just notice how you feel after a breath.