Non-Attachment and Preferences
Some students and clients have asked me in the past about the nature of vairagya (non-attachment). Does it mean that you don’t care how things are? Does it mean that you aren’t supposed to prefer one thing to another?
In an ultimate state, a fully realized state, there is no difference and nothing to prefer. In a state of spiritual bliss, Amma once ate glass, used tea leaves and dog droppings, seeing no difference between these and delicious food. I don’t know about you, but I am not there yet! I still do see a difference between eating glass and eating a wholesome, fresh, organic meal.
On the journey towards enlightenment, it is important to understand the difference between non-attachment and preference. We can practice non-attachment and still acknowledge our preferences, as long as we understand that our preferences are still attached to the temporal and not rooted in the infinite.
It may be tempting to use the idea of non-attachment to disconnect from the moment and deny our preferences, instead of learning to be present to witnessing our likes and dislikes. One of my clients put up with a destructive situation for years because she felt she was practicing non-attachment, without seeing that she was actually disconnecting from her own heart and soul directive to move on.
I have a strong preference for lush, hot weather. My body craves the sort of heat that really only seems to visit Toronto in mid-July each year. In this warmth, I feel in full bloom, like a tropical flower. So every July, I find myself in an almost spell-like state, under the illusion that the thick heat that my body has craved all year will somehow last forever.
As the first cool breeze blows through the air at the end of August, I am jolted by the thought that summer is suddenly over. This week, bringing the autumnal equinox, marks the official end of yet another summer. With the collapse of summer’s mirage, the image of eternity seems to fade.
I wish I could say that at this point in my life, I was not attached to summer. I would be happier if I could feel equally at ease in all seasons. Perhaps then, when the time comes again that I need to put on that extra layer as I tuck myself in at night, I could feel content rather than unsettled. But for now, I can honour my preference for warmer climates by planning my tours and holidays accordingly, where possible.
Nothing lasts forever. We have heard the phrase in pop culture. We know that intellectually, yet we still are a culture that seeks to find the eternal through the finite. We are reminded of this truth in spiritual teachings when we come across the notion of non-attachment.
Non-attachment is not to be in denial of something by pushing it away, or by turning a blind eye to something we don’t want to see. It is not to pretend that I am not bothered by the change in season. Instead, it is to welcome, even befriend the root fear that the change brings, a fear of being cold and not being kept safe.
The practice of witnessing is a step towards non-attachment, because witnessing gives us the space to let go of the stories we attach to what is. I grew up in Montreal, a city which I love, but which is in a state of deep freeze for six months every year. The sound of snow crunching under my feet is for me like the way some people describe fingernails on chalkboards. I can watch this reaction, these associations I have to the change, and simply be with them, without needing to do anything to make them go away. Non-attachment does not mean being without preference. I acknowledge that I prefer warmer climates. I also accept that at this time, I live in Toronto and the temperature does go below 20C.
The notion of the temporal can be a great comfort, a sweet reminder to continue to focus on the things that do last: our human inter-connection, the alchemy of the heart, the grace of spirit. As I type, I am preparing to travel to Europe, where I will join my partner Rishi for some important business meetings in support of the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. I have been spending hours on administrative tasks to support this work, with scarcely a moment for my music or exercise. But I know that when I return, I will be able to immerse myself in music and swimming again. And we know that cold weather will eventually give away again to summer.
Until then, I witness any aversions I have to the chill and put on an extra layer. I witness my attachments and watch with loving presence wherever I may be and whatever I may be doing, so that I may permanently embody non-resistance to what is and be truly free. I firmly believe, and know from experience, that each moment of life provides the perfect ingredients for our spiritual growth. All we need to do is fall into being and open to right here and now.
We are all growing towards the ultimate transcendence of all attachments. Whatever your preferences may be at this time, may you witness them with loving presence.
May you find that this fall brings you into a deeper connection to yourself. May you find each moment full of heart, and warmed by your eternal spirit.
Love our world.
We are one Earth family.