Quick to Listen: The Ethical Practice of Nonattachment
March 27, 2017
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
The yoga ethic of aparigrapha—nonattachment or nonpossessiveness is an idea with which I have had to grapple. At first glance this ethic or yama seems to be about materialism, and I’m all about simplifying my life. But it gets harder for me to apply the ethic to my relationships. I love my family and my friends. Why on earth would I ever try to be unattached from them?
Watching my kids grow into independent adults, moving away from home, has helped me understand this yoga ethic. As many empty-nesters know, this can be a very painful, emotional experience for the parent. There is a profound feeling of loss and grief when the formerly dependent child, who you love so much, is no longer physically present in your home. But at the same time you know, deep down, that this was your job as a parent—to nurture and allow your child to grow into their own person, to follow their own path. As your adult child detaches from you, and you from them, you don’t stop loving the child, but rather, in letting go, you acknowledge that child’s inherent right to learn from life's lessons in their own time, trusting them to become the person they were created to be.
When I bring my faith into my yoga practice I find that the yoga ethic of non-attachment, when applied to relationships, is not about isolation, but about fostering loving, honest communication. It's really about letting go of my attachment to my own opinion and ego. To love your neighbor as yourself, is to accord to your neighbor the respect and recognition that you extend to your adult child: that they are on their own spiritual path, and will learn life’s lessons in their own time. Its not my job to play God and "set them straight". Rather, my faith urges me to listen deeply to my neighbor's story, to relate my own story simply and honestly without expectation, and search for understanding.
I struggle with my attachments: to my own opinions, that keep me from hearing my neighbor’s story; to my adjustment to being the mother of adult children, trusting them to learn life's lessons in their own time; to my tendency to attribute my current irritations and dissatisfactions to the actions of others or past events that I can't seem to let go of. Cynthia Bourgeault relates a story about Father Thomas Keating teaching a nun centering prayer. The nun lamented, “Oh Father Thomas I am such a failure at this prayer. In twenty minutes I’ve had ten thousand thoughts!” “How lovely,” responded Keating, without missing a beat. “Ten thousand opportunities to return to God.” I think I will probably always struggle with my earthly attachments, but it’s a comfort to know that each time that I let go of what I don't need to be carrying, all are encouraged along the faith journey.