Detachment and befriending the destructive perfectionist within

In the advent of rampant yoga materialism one can certainly look the part of an urban spiritual yogi. You can sling on your latest Lululemon purchase and throw your self selected yoga mat bag over your shoulder and head off to a yoga class. Between endeavouring to master the asana taught in class and socialising at the filtered water area before heading home, it becomes evident that there is more to this yoga than meets the eye. More than developing abs of iron and butts of steel that is.

Most people use yoga for its strengthening and meditative effects and yet the most transformative aspect of yoga can often be overlooked. Yoga of the heart, Yamas: the ethical principles for gaining limitless growth, confidence and achievement.

There is growing concern in our society that we are caught up in materialism to the detriment of character and picking up values which place personal gain before ethics, integrity or love.

Living yoga and finding the spiritual in daily life starts with practicing the first limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. These practices have helped me to sort through life’s tangles and clarify my own values and renew my commitment to yoga ideals.

Yama, the first limb found in the classic text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, includes lessons such as:

Ahimsa: not harming. There are many ways to apply this basic virtue, but today I considered it in light of the word detachment.

I was planning a workshop this morning and found myself juggling ideas and re-configuring time frames over and over. I noticed I was becoming agitated and frustrated. Interrupting this tendency, stopping it at its end point, I observed the physical effects; muscular tightness and shallow breathing. I marveled at how I, the co-creator of my own health, can stuff it up (my health that is). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras invite one to observe and get to know one’s habitual ways of thinking and acting and to engage in tapas (restraint) in order to break the unhealthy patterns which prevent us reaching our full potential. I am working on ahimsa (not harming). I am addressing the way I harm myself with high expectations and perfectionism. I struggle to stay with the exercise and understand fully why there is a saying “ignorance is bliss”. Self transformation (a heroes journey according to Joseph Campbell) takes courage. What an ugly sight is revealed – the frustrated, irritable, perfectionist me! How to make friends with this aspect and sit comfortably with the insights!

Then I came across this definition of detachment and have found it to be a useful tool:

Detachment is experiencing your own feelings without allowing your feelings to control you. Its choosing how you will act in a situation rather than just reacting. Detachment does not mean you pretend to feel differently than you do. Detachment means to feel what you feel but not have to act on the feeling unless you want to. It’s like standing beside yourself and watching what you are feeling as well as feeling it.

And as I sit with this new way of framing things up, I am reminded of a Japanese folk Zen saying:

Fish live in streams Birds live in nests Humans dwell In warm hearts