“Detachment is the greatest act of love.” ~ Judith Lasater
As the dust stirred up by my frenzied spring-cleaning catches the light of the late afternoon sun, I can’t help but think about all of the winter dust and grime that has collected in the tiny crevices of my being. After a long, cold, and emotionally trying winter season, it’s time to roll up the sleeves, snap on the rubber gloves and get down to the business of clearing out the junk.
As humans, our lives and rituals have always been tied to the seasons.
Even now, centuries removed from our once nomadic and agrarian lifestyles, we nonetheless feel ourselves intimately connected to the natural world—in ways often symbolic, yet compelling. In snowier regions of the world, we welcome the cleansing rains that dissolve the large, muddied drifts and make space for tiny tulip shoots to spring through. We energetically embrace the lengthening of the day and the vibrant, intoxicating pull of the sun.
And yet, at the same time, the often-sudden arrival of spring can feel overwhelming. The idea of a fresh start, a moving forward, an energetic surge can, at once, be inspiring and anxiety-inducing. The frenetic energy of spring allows us to take on new challenges and embrace new possibilities. But in moving forward, we are also moving away from whatever kept us tied to a past state—whether that is an unhealthy lifestyle, an unsatisfying job, a failed relationship or a financial burden.
In order to truly embrace the fresh start of spring, we must be open to releasing ourselves from the hibernation of winter. We must be fully willing to let go of whatever it is that we are moving away from.
This seems obvious and, perhaps, even easy. Very few of us would choose the heavy boots and cumbersome layers of winter wear over the light, airy attire of spring. However, the act of release (whether we consciously acknowledge what, who or where we are moving from) can be, in a word, terrifying.
To prepare for the release from winter’s heavy baggage, I took a break from my cleaning to return—as I often do—to the wisdom of Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga.
In the book, Lasater explores how, above and beyond the physical practice of poses and breathwork, yoga is a set of tools for compassionately and mindfully negotiating all aspects of life—from romantic relationships to car problems, from mundane daily tasks to life-altering events. We can bring the teachings of yoga to bear on any situation and, in doing so, ensure that our own actions always affirm our inner truth.
In honour of the timeworn ritual of spring cleaning, here are three valuable pieces of letting-go wisdom from Judith Lasater that will help you to recognize, understand and process your resistance to change. Make way for the sunshine!
1. What or whom do you need to let go of? Gain perspective by feeling your attachment completely.
One of Lasater’s techniques for letting go seems counter-intuitive, since it recommends allowing oneself to feel one’s attachment fully. She says that paying special attention to the physical sensations that accompany your emotional and mental state is a great way to gain perspective on the particular response you are having. In her “Letting Go Practice” Lasater writes, “How does your belly feel? Has your breathing changed? Is your jaw tight? Your forehead drawn? Notice your bodily sensations. They are the manifestations of your attachment.”
As we do through yoga asana (or poses), getting in touch with these physical sensations—of pain, stress, suffering, attachment, aversion and so on—allows us to observe the sensations and accept them as they are. As Lasater advises, “If you try to pull surrender to you, or push discomfort away, you will create even more agitation.”
2. How should things be? Abandon “should” and acknowledge the reality of the situation.
It is, of course, easy to acknowledge that our overly attached responses to the people and things around us are a waste of emotional energy. When we react strongly to another person’s actions or words, we are simply asserting the ego and attempting to validate our sense of entitlement to a particular outcome.
Lasater’s text has helped me to realize that when we are disappointed by the people around us or the situations in which we find ourselves, it is because we have attached ourselves too strongly to our expectations of how things should be. Ultimately, we have the choice to give power to certain people, things, or emotions—or not to.
Lasater reminds us, “All day long, you react to things going right and things going wrong. I use a Mantra for Daily Living to help me remember that I am getting caught in this incessant push-pull.”
The mantra she suggests is “How should it be?” This question helps to remind us “that things are the way they are, and that I have a choice about whether…I will be controlled by my attachment and aversion.” This doesn’t mean running away from feeling an experience deeply, but instead allows access to just the opposite. In situations of difficulty, we are challenged to go through the process of pain in order to heal. The act of resisting the reality of how things are is the impediment to living fully in the moment.
3. What is truly permanent? Revel in the beauty of life as change.
We are all familiar with that feeling of anxiety that results from endings.
Even if the job, person, or place we are leaving is toxic to us, the process of leaving introduces instability and uncertainty into our lives. Lasater’s text reminds us that all things in this world are unavoidably temporary. Nothing is truly permanent and there is nothing that we truly own, except for our personal actions.
While it may seem scary, when approached from a different perspective, this reality can be liberating.
Lasater observes, “Our attachment to things remaining the same creates suffering. When we cling to the illusion of permanence, what we actually hope to secure is protection from the terrifying unknown that impermanence may represent.” Her suggested activities for embracing impermanence encourage us to perceive life’s constant state of flux and to revel in it, rather than fear it—to see it as an opportunity for growth, not an occasion for worry. Observing the natural world around us as winter transitions into spring can be one such practice for perceiving this beautiful and necessary fluctuation in states of being.
Lasater’s ultimate lesson reads succinctly: “Detachment is the greatest act of love.” While the challenge to detach oneself from expectations may seem cold, uncaring, or insensitive, it is, in fact, a challenge to love purely. When we experience attachment or aversion, it stems from avidya, that is, the veil that covers over reality and that we mistake for the truth.
Living Your Yoga reminds us to return to practices that affirm a sense of deep connection with self and the world, and that come from a place of love. Her last chapter reminds us of the ultimate goal, which is certainly one of connection, but not the kind that emerges from “need, or fear, or the desire for power over another person.”
Instead, “love in its purest sense is not based upon what you get from the relationship, but on what the relationship allows you to give…Love’s job is to lead you to what is enduring in yourself and in others.”
This emphasis on what is enduring is exactly what allows us to achieve a state of freedom—of supreme detachment—and to fully embrace the promise of spring.
Author: Dani Stock
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own