Attachment vs. Commitment on the Yogic Path


One of the key principles of both Yoga and Buddhism is the idea of non-attachment – learning to free ourselves from dependence upon our possessions, our occupations, and even our ideas.  While this concept can definitely be a liberating one, it can also bring up several challenges.

When they first encounter the principle, people often ask: “How can I build non-attachment while still honoring my relationships?” or, equally relevant: “Aren’t there times when attachment can be not only valid but in fact valuable, especially when it comes in the form of attachment to loved ones or attachment to our principles?  After all, isn’t that what motivates us to stay committed, work hard and to do our best?”

In today’s article here at “The Living Yoga Blog” we’re going to take a look at these very valid questions.  We’ll examine why non-attachment is in fact not only not antithetical to commitment, but can actually help us to act with even greater dedication.  To understand how this is possible, we need to have a better understanding of what attachment is, how it influences us, and why non-attachment is so incredibly beneficial in all avenues of life.

Clarifying the Grounds of Non-Attachment

This first step to fully understanding the importance of non-attachment is to understand the definition and consequences of attachment within Yogic philosophy.  As with Buddhism, Yoga teaches us that the fundamental reason we experience suffering is not because of our connection with people or situations, but rather because of our attachment to them.  The distinction is a subtle one, but also very important.

Connection is both a natural and a beneficial part of life.  The fact is, we all impact one another, and to live without acknowledging and honoring this in our daily activities would be to live in denial.  At the same time, both the Buddhists and Yogis realized that, since we cannot control the behavior of others or the circumstances around us or how our behavior impacts others, to base our sense well-being or happiness on those things would be to set ourselves up for frustration and suffering.

They also realized that, while we cannot control what happens around us or to us, we do have the power to control out inner state – that is, even if we cannot control a situation, we can control how we think about it, and in turn, whether we are unhappy or happy.  Seen through this lens, “connection” can be understood as acknowledging the fact that we all influence one another and living in awareness of this fact, whereas “attachment” is when we allow our happiness and well-being to be defined by external events – whether we get the car or the job, or have the “right” person fall in love with us.

You’ll note that, in this sense, attachment is not about whether things are present in our lives or even about whether we strive to make them happen, rather attachment is about allowing potential events to define our happiness.  Wanting a new car or a better job is not attachment, nor is striving to make them take place.  Attachment is when we say to ourselves: “When I get the new car, I will be happy…” or “I cannot be happy until I get this promotion.”

How Non-Attachment Actually Improves Our Commitment to Family & Ideals

Once we understand the definition of attachment and the grounds for wishing to avoid it, we can see the value and power of actively cultivating non-attachment. We can also see that true non-attachment does not mean avoiding or distancing ourselves from people, things or situations, but rather taking responsibility for our own inner peace and happiness, even when we are working toward achievements or embodying beliefs.  Essentially, through non-attachment, we learn to see our inherent wholeness and completeness, regardless of our circumstances.

Obviously, this self-sufficiency doesn’t by any means preclude the idea of connection discussed earlier.  Taking responsibility for our own inner state doesn’t presume a lack of impact by or on others, nor does non-attachment mean absence of compassion.  In fact, once we realize that we alone are responsible for how we feel, we realize that we have been mistaken when we have blamed others for our unhappiness.  Clearly, letting go of this habit of blaming or vilifying others not only allows us to reclaim our peace but also keeps us from building a wall between us and the people in our lives, enhancing our compassion and empathy for those around us.

Further, we all know that attachment also creates anxiety and fear that tend to cloud our feelings and deplete our energy.  When we rise to the state of non-attachment, we move beyond these short-comings – short-comings that often prevent us from acting wisely, decisively, and powerfully.  In other words, rather than causing us to become less invested or committed to a person or cause, non-attachment actually helps us to act more effectively and without the limitations inherent in attachment.

To point out one more important benefit of non-attachment, we also know that ideals such as connection and compassion are often lost when we fall into the fear, anxiety, and selfishness that attachment can induce.  This means that, when we truly rise to the level of non-attachment, we are better able to stay in touch with principles such as empathy, love, interdependence, and integrity that allow us to act with even greater clarity and dedication.

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, the development of non-attachment not only does not mean that we no longer enjoy the things around us, rather it gives us the presence to actually fully enjoy and appreciate them without the fear of loss inherent in attachment.  And it doesn’t mean that we lose our commitment and dedication to the people in our lives or our empathy for them, rather it helps us to think and act in a way that will profoundly deepen our connection and also what the Yogis and the Buddhists refer to as “skill in action.”

As always, we hope this article might help you better understand another central principle of the Yogic tradition.  Remember, if there’s a concept or question you’d like to see addressed, please don’t hesitate to send us a message – we are always happy to help and grateful for new topics.  Until then, as ever, wishing you the best in “Living Yoga….”

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