Yoga Sutra 1.15: Let Go of What’s Holding You Back

by Gisela Giardino

DRSTĀNUŚRAVIKA VISAYA VITRSNASYA VAŚĪKĀRA SAMJNĀ VAIRĀGYAM.
The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.

Vairagya. Non-attachment. This is one of the most important concepts in yoga and perhaps in any spiritual practice. Non-attachment is something we have to work on constantly. We are attached in large, obvious ways as well as smaller, subtle ways. We are attached to our loved ones and our belongings. We are attached to our beliefs and the outcomes of our actions. We are even attached to our thoughts — that’s why when your mind starts to wander, it’s sometimes very hard to let go of your thoughts and pay attention to the present moment.

Sometimes, when we talk about vairagya, people get defensive. They say, “Of course I’m attached to my husband/mother/child. I love them, and I’d be devastated if I lost them!” But what if that person you love needed something important like medical treatment, and receiving that treatment meant they would have to go away and you wouldn’t get to see them again? You would probably send them to get the treatment, right? Why? Because your love (your desire for them to be happy and healthy) is stronger than your attachment (the desire to hold on to them). So, it’s important to distinguish between love and attachment.

Another way to view attachment to loved ones is that we think the people we love make us who we are. Being in love is one of a few limited ways society teaches us to seek validation. How many love songs are there all about being unable to live without your lover? In reality, that’s not romance, it’s codependency. So cultivating non-attachment is a way of teaching yourself that it’s possible to love others and still be a complete person in your own right.

The reason non-attachement is so important is that attachment creates fear — fear of loss, fear of suffering, fear of change, fear even of new information. It’s extremely difficult to grow and learn when you’re in a state of fear.

In the end, vairagya does not mean giving up anything in particular. You don’t have to disavow your old ideas, beliefs, belongings or loved ones. You just have to understand that all these things may come and go from your life. Even if the person you love most in the world or the one truth you thought you knew disappears, you will still be you. Being independent of any attachment is how Patanjali defines self-mastery, and for most of us, it’s a pretty tall order.

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