“Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.”
- The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 Verse 47
The Gita, where this quote is from, is the sixth book of the Mahabharata, one of India’s most famous epic poems. The exact date unknown, but a number of scholars suggest it was completed around 200 CE.
It recounts a dialogue between Arjuna, one of five Pandava princes, and the Hindu deity Krishna, who serves as Arjuna’s guide. The Krishna–Arjuna dialogues cover a broad range of spiritual topics; one of which is “non-attachment to outcomes”.
Since the pandemic, I’ve been living in my family home. Now in a position a find my own home, I began the task of searching for a property. Although I don't have a deadline to move, I've felt impatient and anxious to have my own space. When I see a property I like, I become very attached to the outcome. As a result, if the viewing is unsuccessful or the property falls through it leaves me feeling depleted, anxious, and tense.
'Why is this experience having such a negative impact?' I wondered. My happiness is being controlled by something I do not have. As I am attached to the "fruits of my action", I am experiencing anxiety whenever the results are not according to my expectations.
Going back to the quote form The Gita, it also tells us “do not to be attached inaction”. It is suggesting that we need to find this balance between putting effort into getting our desired outcome and letting go of the outcome itself.
The author Yung Pueblo explores this concept in his book Inward. In one of my favourite quotes, he writes;
"The idea that when you let go of what you want, it comes to you" - inward, p.188
Yung goes on to explain that it might seem paradoxical to work towards a goal and let go of the outcome, but it is the fastest way to get what you want. If we are attached to the outcome, we tend to create tensions that blocks us from fulfilling our desires. Practicing a lack of wanting creates inner peace which is a conduit for blessings (i.e. the things you want) to flow into your life more abundantly.
In another ancient yogic text called The Yoga Sutras, we are introduced to the concept "Aparigraha" which translates to "non-attachment" and “non-greed”. This important yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right. Aparigraha teaches us not to concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation. Instead, we should only be concerned with the present moment.
Here are my 6 ways to practice non-attachment to outcomes (& find lasting happiness):
1. Question why the outcome is so important
Do you think if you get this - home, dream job, relationship, something else – your life will be perfect, or you will be happy?
External circumstances are impermanent. If we allow these changeable elements to control our happiness, then we set ourselves up for suffering. True happiness comes from the inside.
So, check in if you are you indulging in a projected future where an external circumstance will make you happy. Remember don’t let your happiness be controlled by something you do not have.
2. Keep coming back to gratitude and appreciation.
Your happiness is elevated by gratitude and appreciation. If you are finding letting go of outcomes challenging (it's hard!), then gratitude is a powerful helping hand to guide us. Remind yourself to feel appreciation for what you already have.
In my case, I am grateful for the warm safe welcome family home I already have, and I am grateful that I am in a position to find a new home. That simple shift from lacking to gratitude has already helped to free me from the self-imposed pressure, and as result I feel more balanced.
3. Embrace uncertainty
Let life unfold and trust the process. Often, we attach to outcomes to feel some control over our future. As the pandemic reminded us, we have very little control of the world around us, and trying to control the unknown future can cause anxiety, tension, and stress.
What we do have control over is the world within us. Practice letting go of control and trusting in the process. It will all work out the way it is meant to.
4. Practice being present
By letting go of outcomes and yielding into the present moment, we might be surprised to feel more at peace. When your mind starts projecting into the future, can you practice bringing your mind back into your body to be more present?
5. No Big Deal
In the book How To Meditate by William K. Mahony the author describes a quality called “no big deal”. He suggests that when good things happen, we should practice “no big deal". By this he means that we don’t make too big a deal when something great happens because it can lead to arrogance, pride, or a sense of specialness.
By practicing “no big deal” when good things happen makes it easier to do the same when bad things happen. In the same way making a big deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; to self-denigration, low confidence and a low opinion of yourself. “No big deal” is a statement of non-attachment and also of flexibility. We can be flexible to whatever life throws at us.
6. On the yoga mat
On the mat, you can practice non-attachment by letting go of trying to achieve something. By letting go of the idea of perfection, you can enjoy challenges in your yoga practice.
By focusing on a specific pose, we might lose sight of the moment itself. Instead, try observing how your practice makes you feel. In asana practice, the mind can wander. But aparigraha helps to bring us back to the present moment.
When you practice, remind yourself why you are practicing yoga. Can you practice yoga just for the joy of practicing yoga!
So why is it important to practice non-attachment to outcomes and how does this help us find lasting happiness?
True happiness come from within. Through non-attachment, you will start to feel that you do not lack anything, and will no longer be attached to things that you do not have. You can still work towards getting that - house, job, relationship, whatever else - but feel a sense of peace around the outcome.
Practicing non- attachment will cultivate your abundance from within. That's when, like Yung describes, blessing will more easily flow into your life. Try it , and see what happens.,