It’s a revealing thing that we refer to our belongings as “possessions”. (even “belongings” is revealing) The meaning is what we possess but in many ways, it is they who possess us. The stuff we fulfil our desires with can actually be the greatest barrier to happiness and self-awareness. It is in disengaging from that possession or attachment to our stuff that the reality of who we are and what is real unfolds.*
2:39 When non-possession is steadfast, knowledge comes regarding the questions of existence.
This is the last of the 5 Yamas or observances in the Yoga Sutra. This one illustrates how they’re not really practices. The Yamas are things to notice, to be conscious of. While you can certainly make a mood of being “unattached”, it’s just a concept on the level of mind. Attachment remains.
As this is one of the keys to spiritual awakening, the point should not be missed. It is when the attachment or identification with the “me” falls away that the shift to the cosmic Self takes place.
1:15 In the state of non-attachment one is freed from desire for objects, whether seen or heard of. This is the indication of triumph of the Self.
1:16 The highest state of non-attachment is freedom from all change, which comes through knowledge of the Self (purusha)
And therein is the key – knowledge of the Self is the key to non-attachment. That comes through samadhi, as Patanjali repeats in several ways.
1:32 These obstacles can be removed by repeated experience [practise] of the one reality.
Samadhi can be developed in various ways but is easiest through a practice of effortless meditation. Even the practice itself cultures letting go. Other forms of meditation are much less effective at samadhi due to their mechanics.
Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita goes into karma or action. It’s useful to mention how Krishna describes the detachment from action because the same holds true here. At first we notice after the fact – “doh, I did it again” or “That event brought me pain because I was attached to the outcome (object, person).“
Then we begin to become conscious during. We notice how we’re responding in the moment. “I’m reacting again, due to how attached I am to their response.“
And then we notice right as the first impulse to act and grasp is arising. There is both the impulse to act, perhaps in a reactive way. And there is the impulse to grasp, to resist what is unfolding at the same time – definitely a reaction. “Ah – I am attached to a certain outcome here.” “Oh, look how this is making me clench.” Being conscious brings real choice – do we act? Do we let go of that grasping? Can we let go deeply enough to resolve that attachment, to dissolve the energy of resistance? This is stepping off the wheel of karma.
Happily – for most things, the attachments will simply fall away with practice and experience of silent presence that I Am. But there can be those pernicious ones that are regularly reinforced. These may take conscious attention to notice and release, as above.
This is Yama, Observance.
* note here I’m not talking about giving up our possessions but rather disengaging from our attachment to them so they lose their charge and burden for us. We can then enjoy them more.
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