Can we ever really live detached from what we love deeply?
I asked myself this question this last Tuesday after having put to sleep my dear, beloved cat Lillian. Lillian, a stray who found us, was 19 years old and had survived asthma so serious she was in oxygen, a brain tumor, food allergies, and irritable bowel. As she struggled to breathe from what was the malady that did her in – a tumor in her sinuses, my husband I struggled to face what we needed to do so her suffering did not go on. That meant letting go. And that is when I realized how attached I was to Lillian.
Her health issues had meant giving her medicine morning and night, a shot of B-12 periodically, vitamin supplements, special food and innumerable trips to the veterinarian. Her habit was to sit with her front paws, chest, and head on my lap each evening as I sat in a chair in front of the woodstove. She was loved by guests upon whose lap she insinuated herself, and by the staff and doctor at the veterinary hospital who cared for her over the years. They had even name two tortoise shell stray kittens Lilly and Ann after Lillian, who was herself a tortoise shell.
Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra writes about those things that cause us suffering. Raga or attachment is one of the most powerful. When we experience something pleasureable, it is natural that we want to repeat the experience. When we cannot repeat the experience and we suffer loss, then raga has been activated.
With loss comes grief, which may be subtle or profound depending upon the degree of attachment. Grief unbalances us, affecting us at all levels of our system – physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual.
On his website, www.yogaforgriefrelief.com, Antonio Sausys talks about detachment (vairagya) as being critical to releasing suffering or grief. He explains that detachment is not a cold, unloving concept. Rather, it is based on “the acceptance that everything [in our material world] is impermanent.” He maintains that this acceptance can allow us to love more deeply and appreciate more fully that which we know will not be with us forever.
We develop detachment through our yoga practice (abhyasa), which encourages to see ourselves more clearly through self-observation (svadhyaya) and to focus on our own inner light of awareness (purusa). Over time, focusing on this inner light, which is eternal, leads to less attachment to what is impermanent.
While I knew my Lillian kitty wasn’t going to live forever, and though I know intellectually that everything changes and there is no permanence in our material world, letting go of her was and is painful. In answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this reflection, I don’t know if we can ever live detached from what we love deeply. I don’t know if I can.
Finding acceptance of impermanence and detachment will continue to be a practice for me.