One of the great lessons of the Bhagavad Gita is Non-Attachment. We often think of this as not being attached to material things. If we go a little deeper in our practice, we might see it as not being so attached to our ideas, our habits, our opinions, our “knowing”. And, the point the Gita really pushes is this idea of not being attached to outcomes, or to the “fruits of our actions”.
We work hard in this life, and we expect something in return. Often, that expectation is very specific. We go to a job; we expect a fair paycheck. We buy a house; we expect comfort and shelter. We have kids; we expect to be adored by them.
Wait! What? Adored by that surly 13 year old lump in the bed upstairs? Better let go of THAT expectation!
If my picture of success for all the hard work I’ve put into parenting was receiving constant respect and appreciation from my teenagers, well, then I have failed. Luckily, I have many ideas of what success looks like in this arena, and it changes day to day, minute to minute.
Life is a laboratory. We are scientists. Our actions are like engaging in experiments. We set the right conditions, with the idea of a particular outcome. But, what if that outcome doesn’t occur? Is the experiment a failure?
I think we all know that some of sciences breakthroughs have come from unexpected outcomes. Consider:
In 1889, two scientists removed a poor dogs pancreas, in order to learn about the digestive system. Later, they noticed flies swarming around the dog’s urine puddles. This was unusual, even for flies. They discovered that by removing the pancreas, the dog developed diabetes. Later, this information was used to develop insulin.
In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming noticed mold growing on his petri dishes of Staphylococcus Bacteria colonies. Disappointed, he was determining which colonies to toss and which to keep, when he noticed that the bacteria was avoiding the mold. The mold, when studied, turned out to be a rare strain that secreted a substance inhibiting bacterial growth. Toss the Staph bacteria! This study took a new turn and eventually we had Penicillin!
Pfizer had introduced the chemical Sildenafil as a heart medication. During clinical trials, it simply was ineffective for the intended use for heart conditions. Darn. But wait! What is this interested side effect that men are reporting? Thank goodness the scientists were willing to switch gears and not shelf their hard work just because the outcome was not what they hoped. Because, we now have Viagra.
*These are just a few of the scientific breakthroughs that have occurred when scientists have been diligent in their efforts, and willing to accept a different outcome than anticipated. And, there have been many other examples of lemons-to-lemonade in life outside the lab that have led to unexpected “successes”: Velcro, Play-Doh, Corn Flakes, Vaseline. (Imagine life without Velcro? Preschool teachers everywhere shudder at the thought of tiny gym shoes with laces!) What would life be like without the “mistakes” that change our path to one we hadn’t anticipated?
Maybe there is something you are working on right now in your life. Maybe looking for a new job, working on a relationship, engaging in a project of some sort. It might be a nice practice to pause in your labors, and ask yourself a few questions:
As I work to set myself up for success, what best efforts do I need to apply? What is the best use of my time and effort? What mental energy and tone should I bring to this work?
What is my idea of success in this situation?
Is there only one outcome I’ll accept as successful?
What other outcomes, successful or not, are possible in this situation? List as many as you can, maybe even in writing so you can come back to your outcomes later.
Now, looking back at your list, imagine each of the outcomes coming to fruition. Even those that would seem to be failures. What would that outcome look like? How might it change your path? Picture that new path. Is there a way that this path might actually work out just fine? Maybe even better? Even if you can’t really see exactly where the path would lead, can you imagine the possibilities? Go a little crazy here.
There is a distinct possibility that, after engaging in this little mental experiment, you discovered that most unexpected or undesired outcomes don’t lead to gloom and doom. Perhaps your imagining led you to things you hadn’t considered. Hopefully, it may allow you to loosen your attachment to one particular outcome, and open up your mind and heart to many different outcomes. Naturally, in your mind the chances of success therefore increase, and you may feel more relaxed.
And that’s the goal, right? We all have had it drilled into our heads that yoga reduces stress. But, it’s not the hamstring stretches that do it. It’s the philosophy. By practicing non-attachment by not attaching to outcomes, we learn that we can be happy with many different outcomes in life. We become resilient, calmer, and yes, less stressed.
My kids don’t swoon over my cooking, no matter how hard I try. I text to-do lists when I’m at work, and still arrive home to messy rooms and an unwalked dog. But, when I get an unexpected hug, or an “I love you, Mom”, guess what? I am a raging success.
*I discovered these little tidbits from the sciencealert.com website article “These 18 Accidental And Unintended Scientific Discoveries Changed The World”, by Kevin Loria.
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