How often do you find yourself, consciously or unconsciously, attaching your happiness to a person, an object or a circumstance? We may not be saying it out loud but if we were to hear the absurdities created by the mind and ego, we might realize how much they sabotage our happiness! My life would be better if…. I am happy when….
As long as we attach our happiness to external objects, other people or fixed circumstances we will suffer! That’s a guarantee. How does it feel when that person who holds your happiness lets you down or when you lose the job or your youthful looks that you were so attached to? We have no control over those constantly changing factors.
Non-attachment (aparigraha) is the fifth of the ten principles for living happy.
As Donna Farhi explains in her book Yoga Mind, Body, Spirit, our ordinary minds are constantly creating concrete images, concepts and paradigms in relation to ourselves, others and life. We do this to create a sense of security and confidence in a constantly changing world. We need something to hold on to and we decide with certainty what is NORMAL or RIGHT.
Faith Jegede reflects on this point and pleads not to be called ‘normal’ when she talks about what she has learned from her autistic brothers in her touching 5 minute TEDx talk.
Attachment = Suffering
The extent to which we attach to our identities and images is reflected in the extent to which we defend them and resist change. Just think of the money and effort we spend on beauty and anti-aging products! The risk, however, is that when the world turns out different, when circumstances change and life is not what we think it should be, we lose our stability and identity, we feel vulnerable, we fall into depression, we resist, we blame and ultimately we suffer.
For most of my life I’ve been really healthy and my body has allowed me to do things like white water rafting, mountain biking and trekking. I took my athletic body for granted and considered it normal. So when I found my body chronically exhausted and aching, feeling dizzy, with constant tension in my head, and struggling even to get through a normal day in the office, I became disheartened, depressed, and sorry for myself. I searched for someone to give me the answer and fix what was wrong with me and spent months focused on the time when my body would be better and I would be happy again. When no answer was coming and months were passing, I realized that I needed to accept what I was feeling, take responsibility for my reactions to it and work with my body. I learnt that this was just another experience of life, no better or worse, just different. I needed to adapt.
Letting go = Evolving
I found that I could use the same learning as I went through the experience of losing a dear friend to cancer at a young age. Sometimes by letting go we can be surprised by the outcome of a change and how it can help us evolve. Everything happens for a reason!
Our happiness is not dependent on anything outside of us or on a particular circumstance. For sure it is important to share our joy and this really increases our sense of happiness. But everything is in constant movement. We can cope much better if we can be flexible, only keeping a soft hold or gentle connection to what we value and appreciate, focusing more on what lies within and how we act / react to each moment.
Going with the Flow
As a former rafting guide I like the analogy of a river. Imagine life as a fast-flowing river. If you desperately try to swim upstream against the current and grasp for branches at the edge, you will lose energy, be pushed under and suffer. If you let yourself go with the flow, feet first to push away from any rocks or dangers, you will begin to understand the river, be able to choose your direction and find an eddy where you can stop to rest.
Donna Farhi wisely suggests that we will in fact feel a greater sense of security and be more resilient when we let go of resistance and allow ourselves to grow with change.
What if the postures we practice on the yoga mat are all about enhancing our flexibility to life’s changes and less about touching our toes!
My own personal experience is that in letting go, with the support of practices like meditation and restorative yoga, I have started to reveal a sense of happiness that lies deep within. It has been there all along!!