In October 2015 I traveled to a small island in the Gulf of Thailand to spend a month immersing myself in a Yoga Teacher Training. At the time I was engaged to my now husband, 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.
I learned through my training and through reading some of the most important texts from ancient India a completely new ideology about my life on this Earth. I have never gravitated towards or been attracted to religion in the traditional sense, but the practice of yoga opened new doors for me spiritually. Through further study into the history and philosophy of yoga I was introduced to the concept of maya, which means "illusion” in Sanskrit. The illusion is that we falsely identify with our minds and the physical world that we perceive through our senses. We become attached to objects, people and our identity, which are ultimately ego-based. This is why we feel upset or saddened when you lose something or have something taken away. It is also why we tend to cling to the past and worry about the future. It is why we are constantly seeking to have more money and possessions and also why we place so much value on our social and economic statuses, level of education and career paths. But do the things you own and the names you call yourself truly define you? Do your thoughts define you? Stripped away of those, how would you identify yourself? This is the illusion.
We forget that the reality we experience is temporary. Our own bodies are temporary. We refer to certain objects or people as “mine” or “yours”, and then because we have a sense of possession we set ourselves up for disappointment and suffering when our temporary conditions change. Everything you think you own is temporary….so are is anything really yours? In the same sense, our emotions are also temporary, yet we often allow them to consume us.
It is through Yoga that I learned concept of vairagya or non-attachment. Vairagya comes from an understanding that your True self is never-changing. It is the mind and its emotions that are constantly shifting. It is our bodies that experience pain and sensation. If this is difficult to comprehend, an easy way to begin understanding is to pay attention to the thoughts in your mind. Notice how you are able to observe your own thoughts. Who is doing the observing? Who is aware of these thoughts? This awareness allows you to separate yourself from your emotions. You still experience emotions, but you no longer identify yourself with them. This profound understanding creates a deeply rooted sense of peace from within, which in turn leads you to the practice of non-attachment. When you are not attached to outcomes, objects, people or other temporary conditions you free yourself of unnecessary discomfort and sadness. You learn to live in the present moment without being distracted by your past experiences or worries of the future. However, this is much easier said than done.
These ideas resonated with me, and I immediately began practicing more self-awareness, observing my emotions rather than allowing myself to get caught up in them. As we prepared to move we got rid of over half of our possessions, and I donated over half of my wardrobe. Childhood toys and clothing that I had kept for sentimental reasons I finally decided to part with. Clothes I hadn’t worn in well over a year I chose to give away. I thought I had internalized the practice of non-attachment and understood it on a deeper level, 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 while lifting heavy objects. 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. I had just gotten my wedding band and was looking forward to wearing the two rings together in just a couple of weeks. 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 way I believed it somehow enhanced my identity? The ring itself was just that….a ring. Why did I place so much importance on it? Yes, it was expensive, but I was not crying over money. I was crying because (and it is hard 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 identifying myself with my ring. It was that sense of “mine” that led me to feel utterly victimized when it was stolen, similar to how a child cries when their favorite toy is taken away.
I thought I had grasped the idea of non-attachment, but it wasn’t until I was forced to live it 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.
Even now the lesson continues. Some days I still do miss having a diamond on my finger, especially when I see other women with rings like mine. The difference now is that I understand that that longing comes from my ego, which seeks to strengthen its identity through material objects and validation from others. It seems so silly to me now. My wedding band is dainty and simple, surely nothing that I feel like I am “showing off” to anyone. 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 temporary in nature I would have not felt such intense grief in its absence. In reality, I 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. Have you ever felt saddened by this? …Probably not. Instead, we focus on their innate beauty while they are in bloom. We find delight in their different colors, sizes and shapes. We appreciate them in part because of their temperance. Why should we live life any differently? Enjoy and celebrate the beauty of life and the things we have, but work towards not allowing yourself to become attached to things themselves. Only though awareness and practice of vairagya can we begin to find a sense of inner peace that is unaffected by daily circumstances and interactions.