Should I take this job? Should I commit to this person? Am I doing the right thing in my life? As adults, we often get caught up in such grandiose, impossible questions. It can be overwhelming to consider all the potential responses to these questions, and for some (🙋🏻♀️) the mere presence of so many options can send the mind into a debilitating paralysis. The practices I’ve come to rely on for mind-body support, Ayurveda and yoga, offer many tools to ease the suffering while confronting these questions, big and small; namely, through mindful awareness, we cultivate an ability to settle the overwhelm of the mind (i.e., redirecting the fluctuations, or vrttis, in a more rhythmic and focused flow), and loosen our attachments to the stories our minds are built to concoct in favor of the only story we know is true: the present moment.
Nonattachment was my the focus of my teaching and thinking last month, which yielded a lot of fruitful inquiry and discussion around how to value the present and separate from the mind’s swirling around past and future selves—the selves who would be living the answers to those too-big questions. I admit that the more I thought about what I’ve become unattached from—old habits, old belief systems, which weren’t inherently “bad” but just no longer appropriate for my life—the more my ego fluffed her feathers and strutted around in my inner landscape. I’ve done a lot of work to get to where I am now in my ongoing healing, and I notice how big of a difference these nonattachments have made in my day to day life and experience of the world. If 2017 Jennifer met 2022 Jennifer in a yoga class, the might not get along so well. And being able to confidently share part of my process reinforces how “advanced” my work on the mind has become, in the tradition of yoga at least.
But being advanced and unattached doesn’t mean the work ends—at least not in my experience. The image that came to mind as I reflected on peeling back the layers of attachment, and continue to do so, comes from Marie Kondo: After a successful closet purge the person is left staring at their empty space, and, rather than feeling joy from being freed of their material burdens, is totally overwhelmed and confused. Releasing those attachments is hard work, but harder still is confronting the root of what those attachments were covering up. The empty closet of our lives—the great unknown—is what I’m exploring now, having sorted my attachments into the keep, donate, and toss piles: the question we must ask to be truly free of our attachments— why?
As a yoga student and teacher, I’m often thinking about the “goals” of my sequences—which part of the body I want to “target,” what philosophical idea or elemental energy I want to embody in the postures I offer. I choose the poses by way of answering this question of why. Why triangle pose? To explore “twisting” in the thoracic spine in a standing pose. Why begin lying down in constructive rest? To establish a foundation of earth element and set the conditions for pelvic tilt exercises that support the “root.” Etc, etc. These are all well and good, and I like to think my “whys” are rather thoughtful and creative (ego feather-fluffing yet again). So when I heard Judith Hanson Lasater, a wise and respected yogi whose work I’ve recently immersed in, offer asana as a “question” in and of itself—the poses an embodiment of a question, not an answer or, in her words, a “performance”—I felt inspired to reconsider my whole approach to the “why” of my sequencing—on the mat and off. What if, rather than asking “why” we do a pose, we let the pose ask “why”. . . [fill in the blank]? Why do we need or want another way to twist or a sense of rooting; why practice at all; whys going all the way down, like the turtles, leading us ultimately to the empty closet of an answer.
Asking why-anything can be a way of clarifying our intentions and (non)attachments, but it can also be a way of releasing so much fear around the unknowns of life. If the postures of our practice can serve as stable containers for that vast unknown, it might make the reality of our inability to understand anything fully a little more palatable—even enjoyable. Into the space of the shape can come the essence of beginner’s mind, which we are always trying to cultivate in mindfulness practices. Detaching from the mind’s insistence that we can ever answer “why,” and instead embodying the question as the motivation for life itself. It takes us beyond the limited viewpoint of our adult, even “advanced” work of nonattachment by returning us to the childlike state of wonder and curiosity that’s reflected in every kid’s favorite question. Rather than a tiresome deluge, we might consider the string of “whys” that occupied our minds as youths as the ultimate freedom we’re all seeking, but in reality only need to remember.