Dec 2012

Vairagya (Detachment) for greater happiness, sense of centered and well being.


I've been reflecting while in this lovely peaceful place on my mind and how it can cause me so much suffering. Here life is very peaceful; there is nothing to get involved in or take responsibility for, no commitments and so the mind can become quite peaceful. This gives me energy and clarity to come back into the life that I'm called to live – teaching yoga, practicing yoga therapy and enjoying relationships with friends and family. While spending time in retreat is no doubt beneficial, most of us have been called to live in the world. Living our lives in a conscious way can be such valuable practice, when we know how to approach it. If we remember every moment of our day; every problem and difficulty we encounter; every joy and delight can be a call to be present and wake up to our limitless nature. So how do we do this? Many teachings from yoga philosophy answer this question.

Patanjali Yoga Sutra

  • Iv3 Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam
  • Iv4 Vrttisarupyam itaratra

From study of Patanjali's sutras (and other texts also) we are told that when we abide in the observer (drastuh) we see things as they are; otherwise our view of things is distorted by the filters of past conditioned experiences (vrtti).

  • Iv12 Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodah

Identification and realisation of drastuh is by practice and detachment. Abhyasa – we need to make some effort to awaken to identification with drastuh; through various tools that Patanjali describes later in the text. And Vairagha – we need to let go of identification with, through study (svadhyaya) we know is not drastuh. I find Vairagha interesting. We are 'householders', not monks and are not called into practices of renunciation, so what is a useful practice of detachment?


I have frequently been told of the example of our a child lets go of their dolls and toy cars easily when they no longer have interest in them. And so we are able to practice detachment by examining the relationship we have with things (and thoughts/ beliefs/ concepts) and letting go of those that we realise don't define us. I emphasize that this is not necessarily about having or having not, but examining the relationship and letting go of what we no longer need. I can curiously examine the relationship I have with money/ possession and consider whether these things make me happy; how much of them I need for my happiness and whether I would be willing to try and do with just a little less. To consciously examine what action leads me to feel more centered and fulfilled. Perhaps I only need to buy 3 new dresses at Fabindia (fantastic natural fibre/dye clothing store in India), not 5 and I can give Rps1000 more to the ashram school! Such practice needs to be conscious and mindfulness brought to the feelings associated with letting go – I really liked the 4th and 5th dress, so I felt a little disappointed to not have them for a few days; but then when I saw how little the kids in the ashram have I felt a deeper sense of satisfaction – it no longer felt like a trauma not to have the dress.

In some instances our growth may be fulfilled by developing a healthy relationship with having something. We can still practice detachment – in realising an object doesn't define us, but it may supports us to live a spiritual life or care for our friends, family or environment. In a world where domocracy is best practiced in how we consume, choosing what 'to have' may support an ethical economy.


If we try to force 'renunciation', then we are in danger of repressing some identification, thereby creating and/or reinforcing a conditioned experience. For instance I may be taught that yoga teachers should behave a certain way (eg. always be generous) and when I have thoughts that are 'unspiritual' (eg. greed) I pretend them away and defensively justify actions motivated by avoidance of these emotions (tell myself I work hard and deserve the nice things in life that my money can buy). Or I give something away and spend months after regretting the decision and resenting the receiver of the possession. Better that I keep the possession and contemplate whether my happiness is dependent on it.


Another opportunity to practice 'detachment' is when we are conflict with a friend or family member about something. Perhaps our friend feels we should do one thing and I, another. Detachment may be practised as a willingness to step back and be with the discomfort of not having things our own way. This is particularly useful when things are not in our control. For instance, due to the busy-ness of the ashram, in a few days I will have to move from my comfortable room with private bathroom into one of the older cave rooms with no hot water. I can struggle with this or I can accept it and let go of my attachment to my preference. Again it invites us to step outside our personal story and to be with a short term unpleasantness; and later we come to understand how unimportant it was, that how happiness is not conditional on our having things our own way.


Anyway, just some reflections – try out 'detachment' and see how it feels and how life changes! Look forward to seeing you all again very soon. Hope some of you feel inspired to study Patanjali and participate in the meditation sessions.


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