Practice and Detachment

by Fran Tolhurst

Practice and detachment are the means to still the consciousness. Practice is the steadfast effort to still these fluctuations. Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations. Renunciation is the practice of detachment from desires. The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul (Yogasutra 1:12-16).


BKS Iyengar writes at the beginning of his commentary on the fourth chapter of the Yogasutra that in the end, our aim is to live a life free of attachment and desire, “ ... as if a kite were released in the sky, without a string to bring it back to earth.”[1] Only when we act without motive and desire do we find freedom.

Flying a kite is quite an art. As it rises against the wind resisting the downward pull of gravity, the kite flyer tries to find the place where the kite is neither overwhelmed by the resistance as they pull the kite forward or the drag trying to propel it in the opposite direction – both forces capable of pushing the kite sharply downwards dumping it without ceremony on the earth. But with equilibrium between the four forces, the kite rises, only lightly buffeted by the wind as it goes. The kite flyer can feel the tuffs of wind through their fingers. In the end, it is the wind that keeps the kite airborne so that the early resistance is just part of getting it flying. But to let it go once it is high in the sky means that the kite will be buffeted by the forces of the wind and perhaps eventually be smashed to pieces on rocks or into a tree, far, far from where it began. It is hard to let it go, knowing that.

The other problem with the idea of dispassion or detachment is that it can mean all sorts of things: being disinterested, unconcerned, aloof or disengaged. It can mean we look on with disregard when people are suffering, we disconnect with another’s passion or grief, it can mean that we are not disconcerted, disturbed or distracted even when we know what is going on is wrong or evil.

One time in Afghanistan, before I was about to travel by road from one region to the next, one of my friends warned me to be careful in case of militia; “Remember, they do not care who you are, what you have done in life, what your status is. They do not ask who is your grandfather, or your father, or how many children you have. They will just kill you; without passion.”

But this is not the kind of detachment that Iyengar is talking about. This is the detach-ment associated with hatred that’s been a long time coming. But the detachment that brings equanimity to our lives involves being resilient through the multiplicity of changes that happen in our lives, in our practice, without wounding ourselves or others because of our desires or passion. This kind of detachment does not come out of an inflated ego, or out of trauma in which we cannot reconcile the experiences in our life with what we imagined life to be. It does not come out of a sense of deep hatred for others, or an abject disregard for our own lives. It comes out of an acceptance of what life brings, and our sense of agency in doing what we can. It also comes out of an understanding that we are deeply connected to each other and to the world we live in. Detachment allows us to find a way through something that is difficult instead of looking for a way out, to anaesthetize ourselves, or turn our backs on others who need our support. Iyengar said that practice and detachment “balance each other like night and day.”[2] It is hard to let go. It takes practice. Continual and persistent practice.


[1] Iyengar, B.K.S. (2002). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. UK: Thorsons. p254

[2] Iyengar, B.K.S. (2002). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. UK: Thorsons. p62


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