How To Separate Your Happiness From Your Physical Possessions
In October 2015, I traveled to a small island in the Gulf of Thailand to spend a month immersing myself in yoga teacher training. I was engaged to my now husband at the time, and I decided to leave my diamond ring at home where I knew it would be safe.
As a replacement, I wore a teal silicone ring. It was sturdy, flexible, and inexpensive. It held very little value, both intrinsically and emotionally. Unlike my diamond ring, I was not afraid of losing it.
Your true self is never-changing—it is your mind and its emotions that are shifting.
It was the yoga philosophy of vairagya, or nonattachment, that inspired me to make this decision. Vairagya comes from an understanding that your true self is never-changing—it is your mind and its emotions that are shifting.
Our own bodies are temporary. We refer to certain objects or people as "mine" or "yours," setting ourselves up for disappointment and suffering when our temporary conditions change. Everything you think you own is temporary...so is anything really yours? In the same sense, our emotions are also temporary, yet we often allow them to consume us. This profound understanding creates a deeply rooted sense of peace from within, which in turn leads you to become less attached to outcomes, objects, people, or other temporary conditions.
I began practicing more self-awareness, observing my emotions rather than allowing myself to get caught up in them.
Once I got through that first trip without my ring, I applied this philosophy to other parts of my life. I began practicing more self-awareness, observing my emotions rather than allowing myself to get caught up in them. Once my husband and I prepared to move, we got rid of over half of our possessions, and I donated over half of my wardrobe. I parted with childhood toys and clothing that I had kept for sentimental reasons.
I thought I had really internalized the practice of nonattachment, but I was about to be taught a much bigger lesson.
Two weeks before our wedding, we moved into a smaller home. We had hired movers to help move furniture inside, and I had taken my engagement ring off so that it didn't get damaged. I had put it in its case in the bathroom, only to discover several hours after the movers had left that it was no longer there. I turned the house upside down searching for my ring. I even had my husband go through the pipes under the sink. I dug through the garbage. We looked everywhere.
I cried off and on for several days. The ring had not only monetary value but also a lot of sentimental value. It was only then, through the heartache and sobbing that I realized the ring had become a symbol of my relationship and my status as a soon-to-be wife. I didn't lose Mike, so why was I so upset? Was it because I unconsciously felt like the diamond had increased my sense of self-worth? Or was it because I secretly enjoyed having others look at and compliment my ring? Was it really the metal and diamond I was attached to, or was it the way I believed it somehow enhanced my identity? The ring itself was just that: a ring.
I was crying because—as hard as this is to admit—I liked having a shiny, outward symbol of my relationship. It wasn't until it was gone that I realized I had been in some ways attributing my worth to this object on my finger. I thought I had grasped the idea of non-attachment, but it wasn't until I went through this more difficult test that I truly understood how to let go. Slowly, I moved on. The joy and love surrounding my wedding day was in no way diminished by a missing ring. After all, marriage has nothing to do with external conditions and objects. The love I shared with my husband was, and is, all that truly matters.
Enjoy and celebrate the beauty of life and the things we have, but work toward not allowing yourself to become attached to "things" themselves.
Since our wedding in July, I have fully accepted my circumstances and am actually quite grateful for such a powerful lesson. Had I not been so attached to an object that was so temporary in nature, I would have not felt such intense grief in its absence. In some ways, I had created my own pain.
The more time I dedicate to regularly sitting alone in silence, the more I find value from within and the less I worry about losing someone or something. I accept that everything in my life is temporary, and that is a part of the beauty of it all. Flowers bloom and then inevitably dry up and fall to the ground. And instead of dwelling on their inevitable loss, we focus on their innate beauty in bloom. We find delight in their different colors, sizes, and shapes. We appreciate them in part because of their temperance. Why should our lives be any different?
Enjoy and celebrate the beauty of life and the things we have, but work toward not allowing yourself to become attached to "things" themselves. Only through awareness and practice of vairagya can we begin to find a sense of inner peace that is unaffected by daily circumstances and interactions.