Nothing epitomises detachment (or non-attachment) like a lotus – the plant has the unique ability to rise above the muddy water in which it grows, and yet remains untouched by the mud – blooming carefreely into a spectacular flower. And the lotus leaf holds the water without attachment and releases water without attachment as well.

No wonder then, Lord Krishna used this metaphor to explain detachment to his disciple Arjuna –

ब्रह्मण्याधाय कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा करोति य: |
लिप्यते न स पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवाम्भसा ||

This shloka loosely translates to, “One who gives up all worldly attachments, and dedicates all deeds to the Supreme Spirit of God, is not touched by sin as a lotus leaf by water.”

As a mother, I believe no one knows attachment better than a mother. At least, that’s what I can say as being one – two times over. Nobody had the power to pluck the strings of my heart, as my children do now. It is pure, blissful unconditional love. I am also sure like several mothers I too become clingy, anxious and yearning for their hug  – just to hold on to them a little longer, before they outgrow the current set of clothes and shoes they are wearing – yet again!

Attachment doesn’t apply only for mothers. As humans we in general tend to get attached to almost all materialistic possessions as well as relationships we come across. ‘Things’ remind us of times more than people – as if a small part of our existence transferred onto them when they came into our lives. And we get ‘possessive’ about people we consider close.

Where does attachment lead us?

Pain and ‘possibility of pain’ is what we get in return of attachment – because there is a constant fear of these situations, things and people being taken away from us. And when that does happen we suffer. Hinging our happiness to things not under our control is the biggest source of unhappiness – and this is what we submit our self to when we get un-mindfully attached to others.

It is not for nothing that the Buddha said, “The root of all suffering is attachment”. As we hold on to the present, to familiarity, and the more we detest change, the more attached we get and the more we are bound to suffer.

The answer – detached attachment

It seems that the phrase detached attachment is oxymoronic, in reality it is not. Detached attachment does not mean ‘non-attachment’ and it definitely doesn’t mean that we stop loving completely. What it means is that you put yourself highest in the list of love – because your inner peace, self-care matter the most. Any big or small external influence should not have the extreme power to lift you up or put you down as and when life happens.

It also means that you open yourself up to experience changes and attempt not to hold on to situations, things and even people forever. The moment we let go of these attachments, that’s the moment true happiness starts flowing in.

Though you are an active participant in your own life, you are also a bystander – who is letting things, moment and people pass – when it is their time. Your job is just to watch without getting your emotions stirred with every activity and event. 

How to practise detached attachment

  • The first step in letting go is accepting that we have attachments. Give it a conscious thought and  identify how they influence your life. Notice how they impact your life over a period of time.
  • Embrace the thought that change is the only constant – because it really is.
  • Create your own happiness rather than trying to see what external factors in others’ behaviours drive your happiness or unhappiness.
  • As Martha Beck puts in her article, for detached attachment one must ‘love more, care less.’ According to her while caring has its shades of sadness, fear, and insistence on specific outcomes (such as, “bowed by the cares, “ who cares?”, “careful!”), love is pure acceptance and is not defined by such elements.
  • Find your own balance of detached attachment – the fine equilibrium between attachment and detachment. The ‘quantum’ for detachment can differ for each person.  
  • And lastly, see the humour in your life – and have the ability to laugh at it.

As for the mother in me who gets overly attached to her children at times, so much so that her world starts revolving around them, I read out these verses by Kahlil Gibran –

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

So, let detached attachment  be our guiding principle for the life ahead. We may not understand it completely right now, but when we need to follow it, it will act like the north star and navigate us in the emotional storms. 

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