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The Balanced Life: The Need for Detachment

2 years ago / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Shutterstock

The title of this essay must have you on the edge: Detachment?? How does that work in relationships? If I am detached from my work, does that make me look like a non-devoted employee? How does non-attachment show up in marriages? How do you express care if you don’t show attachment?

I am not a psychotherapist, a marriage counselor or a relationship expert by any stretch of imagination. But as a practicing yogi of two decades and someone who has been married for over 20 years, I do have some practical anecdotes to share.

In the Vedic tradition, the path to freedom and happiness lies in letting go of attachment.

When I was in college, I knew this girl in the hostel who was dating a guy none of us liked. At 18, I didn’t realize that he was emotionally abusive. If they got into a fight, he would drive his Kinetic Honda (with the woman seated behind) into a tree. If he saw her talk to another boy, rage would consume him. He got jealous if she brought up her brilliant brothers. This guy never hit her, but their relationship was built around toxic attachment.

Think about it: this attachment was based on fear and insecurity. He assumed that by stopping his girlfriend from talking to other men, he could control their relationship and avoid a breakup. Because he had forgotten his true self — which is pure consciousness, he believed he needed something outside of himself to make him happy. His 18-year-old girlfriend became his emotional crutch.

This story isn’t an exception. Between reel and real lives, we have all seen how excessive attachment plays out. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law squabbles. Kids revolt against their parents constantly curating their every, single move. Employees leaving their jobs on impulse. I will also say that not too many people argue with the fact that being attached to materialism, money, or any kind of possessions can cause suffering. You know what gets tougher to navigate: the whole idea of being detached from people, ideals, or outcomes.

Growing up, I saw mom and all the other women around her constantly tell people what to do. Every single woman told her husband when to lay off dessert at parties. When I got married, I saw my mother-in-law do the same. Every morning, she would take out clothes for my father-in-law to wear and lay them out on the bed. She too monitored his sugar intake at gatherings even though he’s not diabetic. Most of these women were taught that the way to express affection is through excessive attachment and establishing control: What people should wear, how women should behave, how much others should eat, what you should wear to someone’s wedding. Once the kids got older, the in-law territory challenges started. Not because they meant anything bad, because they couldn’t let go. Attachment.

I also saw some men limit who their wives interacted with. As if, talking to the opposite sex would translate into an affair. I have heard well-meaning men ask their wives to perform certain “dutiful tasks.” Where is this thinking and expectation coming from: attachment?

There are numerous mentions in the Bhagavad Gita about the importance of detachment to attain peace, happiness and gradual moksha / liberation.

A person who has no desire for sense gratification, who lives free of desires, who has given up all the sense for controls and proprietorship, and is egoless, can alone attain ultimate peace. (Gita 2.71)

A woman or a man are individuals too with their own desires, wishes, beliefs. Their identity isn’t limited to being someone’s son, husband, brother, or father only. If a woman or a man wants to talk to their friends or spend time with their parents or go on a vacation with their siblings, why is that sacrilegious? If you hold space for the individual and respect that they are not yours to control, your relationship will flourish. It’s important to love; it’s equally important to not hold onto that love as if it is an item you possess.

“In Yoga Sutra I.12, Patanjali explains that to achieve a state of yoga, or focused concentration, one must utilize both practice (Abhyasa) and detachment (Vairagyam). Practice and detachment are two of the very first tools Patanjali offers to help in this process of refining the mind toward clearer perception and a deeper connection with your true self.”

As a writer, detachment from my efforts or outcome has helped me stay sane, productive, prolific, and motivated. As a yogi, I show up to my yoga mat daily. On some days, my body gets into a headstand in moments; there are days, a simple Tree Pose feels like a Herculean task. As a wife, daughter, sister, and friend…I show up to my relationships with dedication. When I feel the unhealthy attachment creep in, I sit with myself and ask what’s causing this shift. Looking inside means trying to realize your own Self. Looking outside means constantly running externally and believing that the sensual world that we live in is true.

What Is Detachment?

Detachment is not about being dead on the inside and not caring. It isn’t about lacking emotions or desires. Au contraire. Detachment means having control over our emotions, actions, and desires and being able to manage them. Detachment is not hard-heartedness, it is level-headedness. To sustain and replenish yourself, you need to be detached. If you aren’t detached, then you are captive to your own emotions. Being bound by emotions means you are like a caged bird. Your attachment will hold you back, pull you down, and not let you soar. Letting go can give you a better hold on your life and in your relationships.

Can you be an activist without the associated anger? Can you be considered a successful manager without micromanaging? Can you be a caring partner without constantly telling your other half what works best for them? Can you be a good parent without being overly attached to your children? The answer is YES! Work with detachment.

My question: Can you identify attachments that are affecting your mood or ability to be fully aware?

“The cause of fear: attachment. The cure for fear: detachment.” ~ Jay Shetty, “Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day”