Being unattached to the outcome

Do you find you can’t let go of what you want and keep on at it even when all the signs are that it probably won’t work. This is where one gets “attached” to an outcome. It’s all too familiar and often doesn’t serve us. Instead we can benefit from being unattached instead.

For example, have you ever found you’ve wanted someone else to do something for you and despite your efforts he or she persists in not doing what you ask? You think you’ve made your request pretty plain but what you get back is not what you wanted. Let’s assume the process relies on the other person’s cooperation for things to get done. You push harder and somehow it still doesn’t happen as you want. It seems as though everything, and particularly this person, is conspiring to prevent you getting what you want. Let’s say the day has come to an end and you leave your workplace with the matter incomplete. But in yourself, you are still fuming from what has seemed like your inability to get a result, what we call “being on it”, caught up in a drama. Do you get this in your life?

I have certainly done. In fact it’s got so sophisticated that I can be pretty sure that if I continue pushing, things will continue to jam up and nothing works. It’s like I’m working in an old paradigm that’s past its sell-by date and therefore pointless to continue to try to operate.

One thing that’s powerful of course is to become aware of what is happening, and what I’m doing here, let go and “get off it”, ie. let go of the drama. The beauty of this is that very probably everything then works out.

Being attached

However, there’s another related concept that I also use here, and that is “attachment”. While I am caught up in some drama like the one described above, I am being attached to it. To let go, or even more powerfully, not to get caught up in it in the first place, is to practice being unattached, known as “non-attachment”. Non-attachment is related to the concept of the Witness. While I am in the space of the Witness in relation to happens in my life, I am not emotionally engaged in what happens. I am not wrapped up in my ego and my egoic patterns which I learned eons ago. I am unattached. You can learn this through the practice of mindfulness.

When we are caught up in something, we are acting outside of awareness. It is unconscious, a knee-jerk response. We are wrapped up in it and we won’t see what’s really going on, such as that we are emotionally caught up, maybe feeling angry in this example, won’t take the bigger perspective, won’t see it from another angle, won’t see it from the other person’s point of view, etc. It’s as though, to use an old image, a vinyl record has got stuck in a groove and keeps repeating. We are very probably doing just that, repeating an old-established way of feeling, thinking and acting. This is the ego at work. To enable us to survive, as we saw it, we learned to react in certain ways. This is the ego, ahamkara, and the identification or attachment of one’s ego or limited personality. However, whatever we learned when we were still throwing the toys out of the pram in a tantrum now doesn’t serve us in adulthood, or as we grow psychologically and spiritually. The old creative adjustment that we made back then to the circumstances of life as we perceived them at that point is no longer serving us today. The trouble is, getting it. The seductiveness of the ego is to bring us back into old patterns, to ensure our perceived survival.

In attachment, what is happening is that, almost perversely, we keep on with the pattern. Something happens like my example of someone not doing what you want, and you dig in, get engaged and get “on it”. You are holding on to the pattern, belief, attitude or whatever. You’re attached to it. And, lo and behold, the universe, under the Law of Attraction, gives you more of what you are thinking. So you get more of it.

Being unattached

To practice non-attachment is to be in the Witness, to choose not to engage. You notice what is happening, you may even witness your own response, but you exercise your will, you take responsibility, you choose to not allow your mind to go down its familiar route and you breathe out the emotions that you sense in the background. You keep mental clarity. You hold no expectations about what is to happen. You may intend a certain result. But you are not attached to it. There is freedom here, even for something else to occur, maybe even better that the one you might have got engaged about. You can allow life to flow and to trust that what you really need comes to you.

When we are attached, we are afraid it won’t come to us. In the ego state, we live out of fear, fundamentally that we won’t get what we want, most of all of which is love.

Non-attachment, being unattached to the outcome in particular, is a hard practice to follow in the West, given our environment of desire, expectations, orientation to action and getting the results we think we need and our seemingly heavy involvement with many others thinking the same. But it can be done, even in the thick of things. It only takes awareness and a shift of perspective. That needs to be learned and practiced, developing mental clarity, nothing more.

What you appreciate, appreciates

Recently helping someone to get their life back on track got me thinking about how much is possible when we deliberately focus on what we’ve got that we value, that we appreciate.

So, when you feel like it isn’t happening, that you haven’t got what you want, that things seem not to be turning out as you intended, try this.

Focus your attention on what you do have. Think about all the people in your life that you love, value and respect. Think of the things in your life that you value. Think of your positive attributes, of your skills and capabilities, of what you have accomplished. Think of places you’ve been to, seen on TV, read about, heard about. What’s around you that you value? Just look around at your world. What do you like about it? Then notice how you feel.

If you focus intentionally on what you have in your life that you value, that you appreciate, you create new value. Focusing on these things grows them. It’s a bit like counting your blessings, often said but not often practised.

I’ve seen this many times when working with people whose jobs weren’t going well, had to find another job, were impacted by some organisational transition, had to up-skill or move on, or were not performing well. Their self-esteem had taken a knock and the downward spiral was self-reinforcing. Often this was being accompanied by things going on at home, a divorce, a bereavement, and so on. As a result of the coaching, they would focus on what was positive in their lives, in their skills and accomplishments, discover new possibilities and build a much bigger future for themselves. Their self-esteem would grow and they would discover new confidence and capabilities. The re-focusing of attention is extremely powerful.

And this is the power of the mind: “where the mind goes, the energy flows”. We are extremely creative, much more so than we realise. This positive, appreciative focus is supported by the research of Positive Psychologists like Martin Seligman. It is also to be seen in the work of Appreciative Enquiry in management consulting.

Of course the trick is not to go off into the negative about these things. Left to its own devices, the mind will start to find fault. That’s what the ego likes to get up, because its job has been to look after you, to maintain the limited perspective because it had been proven in earlier life experiences that it’s safe there. Not so. Taking a larger perspective involves challenging the ego. Just notice what’s positive, what you appreciate. Then watch it grow, supported by action on your behalf.