Detached attachment: Wholehearted loving amidst grief

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To me, this transitional pose between side plank and wild thing embodies how I understand “detached attachment”. The pose is changing, and impermanent. It feels grounding, scary, freeing and graceful at once. It reminds me how almost every attachment will end so be fully present, aware and grateful in each moment.

This summer I did something I have been wanting to do for years: I went to a Yoga for Grief Relief weekend workshop with Antonio Sausy. 

After seeing Antonio speak at MISTY in November 2014, I knew I had to hear more and delve into my uncomfortable grief related feelings.

His weekend workshop was transformational and I highly recommend someone who has experienced loss to work with him.

Be aware that his work is for the emotionally courageous; it’s like a Lord of the Rings style adventure, and he is Gandalf, taking you through the anger, sadness, guilt and anxiety that accompany grief. At times I wanted to permanently move into the retreat centre with the amazing food and supportive community, and other times I wanted to break a window and jump out (and jump out of my own skin).

Here are my top take aways from his weekend:

  1. Contrasting and complex states can co-exist: Turn “but” into “and”

Most of us use the the word “but” to describe contrasting emotions or experiences, suggesting that one negates the other:

“I love my work, but freelance is really challenging”

“This thesis is fascinating, but the life of a PhD student is depressing”

“My friend is really needy, but I love her anyway”

“I really want to travel to India, but I’m afraid I’ll get sick” 

“Our time together is so nourishing, but he’s moving to Peru in two months”

“I practice yoga, but I need to take medication for my diabetes” 

“I’m healing, but I miss Leo every single day”

One of my struggles with grief at age 17 when my father died, was the confusion and pain from experiencing love for someone who was gone. Later, around age 20, I suffered guilt when I began to feel better and wondered “does feeling better mean my love for my father has faded?” Yoga answered many of these questions. Yoga is the practice of non-duality. Yoga is the union between the mind, body and spirit. Yoga suggests opposing states can exist at once. In the case of loss, attachment can end while love lives on. Living a yogic life to me is living presently and steadily, without judgment in the face of complex and contradictory situations.

Antonio generously infuses a yogic perspective into our narrative by simply substituting the word “and” for “but”.

How would those sentences sound if we changed “but” to “and”?

“I love my work, AND freelance is really challenging”

“This thesis is fascinating, AND the lifestyle of a PhD student is depressing”

“My friend is really needy, AND I love her anyway”

“I really want to travel to India, AND I’m afraid I’ll get sick” 

“Our time together is so nourishing, AND he’s moving to Peru in two months”

“I practice yoga, AND I need to take pain medication for my lower back” 

“I’m healing, AND I miss Leo every single day”

Using “but” evokes a black or white, dualistic, type of world view where one statement is superior to the other. Using “and” permits us to celebrate that we are mature adults and have the ability to experience contrasting and complex states at once. When I use “and” statements, I feel lighter, it’s a way for me to celebrate finding stability and balance amidst life’s chaos.

2) LOVE and ATTACHMENT are different. 

Love is unconditional. It’s always there. When someone we love dies our love for him or her stays, and we lose the attachment to the person or thing.

Unfortunately, the loss of attachment is painful. When a person dies or leaves, it feels like a part of ourselves also died or left.

If you grew up in the Western world, most of your identity is formed around attachment. Connection and belonging is how we build our sense of self. Psychology looks at parent-child attachment styles as the main determiner of our personalities and adult relationships. Most art is written about lost or desired love and relationships (and sex haha – the ultimate union!)

In the East, non-attachment is celebrated. Buddhists practice releasing attachments.

However, unless you are living in a cave on top of a mountain, chances are you will have attachments, and those attachments will end one day. All relationships will end. The one relationship that will not end is the relationship with ourselves.

And loss can be just as intense with a thing, or animal as with a person. Did you know that we can experience grief when we lose our jobs? Our youth? Our status? Maybe we suffer an major injury and can never run/ski/kayak etc. ever again, so we lose our favourite hobby. Your cute exploring toddler, grows up to have mental illness and is intollerable to be around? Major grief for a time long ago. Wherever there is attachment, there will be grief at some point.

That’s already challenging, and the hardest part is that grief is painful. Like being hit by a bus. As Antonio Describes it:

“Grief takes place throughout the body, mind and spirit. The complex response is integrated in the limbic system, a series of interconnected structures deep within the brain.

After our initial shock, grief can initiate apathy, confusion, fear and intense sadness. Physically, we experience symptoms including low energy, increased physical pain (especially in the mid-back and the pectoral or chest muscles) and altered circadian or daily rhythms (specifically the breathing, circulatory and sleeping patterns).” – http://www.yogaforgriefrelief.com/id64.html

And here was an especially fun part: New grief triggers old grief. So a new break up might trigger the loss of a grandparent. Or not getting a certain job offer might trigger losing a childhood best friend.

3) Practice detached attachment

From the yogic view, all suffering comes from our attachment, and detachment is a necessary part of releasing the suffering of grief. I always perceiveed detachment as not loving, or being distant and disengaged. According to Antonio, this is not the case. “At its purest level, detachment is the acceptance that everything is impermanent: at one level or another, everything must end. It is one of the laws of the universe or Sat.”

So he prescribes a philosophy and daily practice of “detached attachment” which I find really helpful. It is living with the knowing that ALL THINGS will disappear.

This means that when we are spending time with our spouse, friends, kids, parents, favourite iPhone (joke) we are completely present and aware that it will disappear at some point. It is a bit of an intense way to live, however, it can make us incredibly grateful, and takes us out of auto pilot living and allows us to be slightly more prepared when the attachment is dissapears. Also, knowing that the love will not fade is reassuring even when the person is gone. This can also apply for a relationship that ended – the love you had for when things were good can still exist, even if you choose to not be with the person because currently the relationship is toxic.

Following his teachings has helped me access an even deeper sense of love without clinging. So the practice is to acknowledge that something will not be with us forever, therefore we can enjoy it even more when it is available to us. It’s hard to take someone for granted when you are reminding yourself that he or she will be gone at some point.

For me this workshop helped me to savour and LOVE each moment as it was. Whether I am spending time with my family, my man, practicing detached attachment helps me get out of trying to control outcomes, and simply enjoy what’s happening around me. A mindfulness meditation practice really helps with this as well as some specific yoga asana, pranayama and meditation which I will share in the next post!

 

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There is so much wisdom and knowledge in Antonio Sausy’s book “Yoga for grief relief” where we learn to “express, not repress; to externalize, not internalize; to breathe again and relocate all our losses to our heart centre so we can thrive with our newly met self.” – Lyn Prashant, PhD

Also, Maya Angelou outlines the difference between love and attachment elegantly in this video: Love Liberates

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