I’ve never been much of a materialistic person. I hate shopping. I don’t like fancy things. I don’t think wealth is important. But ever since we’ve been reading the Yoga Sutras for Teaching Training, I’ve been overcome with feelings of non-coolness with non-attachment.
After first reading the Sutras on the subway, the first thing I did after I got off was go to Bloomingdale’s–just to look around–at things. My second stop was Sephora, where I tried on make-up, even though before reading the Sutras, I never wore make-up. At first, I thought my behavior was really strange, but now, I see that it was entirely essential in order for me to really understand the Sutras.
You see, in order to understand non-attachment, you have to have something to detach from. I had avoided material possessions, but not because of yoga or deeper philosophy. The Sutras say that the world is a playground, and we have to use it to understand ourselves. Only then can we step away from the world and see our true selves. I wasn’t necessarily in the world, but I hadn’t made a conscious decision to step away from it, either. Even the Sutras say that self-denial for the sake of self-denial doesn’t count for sh*t.
It made me think that maybe, my awesome brother, who is somewhat more into material possessions than I am, might actually be further along on the yogic path. You see, when I graduated college, he gave me a really expensive pair of sunglasses with the advice, “Growing up means having something expensive, and being able to cope if you lose it or break it.” For the past week, I have been trying to convince people that my brother and the Dalai Lama are totally on the same wavelength.
Last night, I got evidence that this is true. One of my teacher trainers told a parable that she said had truly shaped her life. At an ashram, one of the students has the job of cleaning his guru’s room everyday. The only possession the guru has is a tea cup, which he loves dearly. Unfortunately, the student breaks the teacup. Mortified and devastated, he goes to his guru to report the bad news.
But the guru is not angry or even sad. Instead he says, “Don’t worry. I only loved it because I knew it was already broken.”
The point is, we take care of things knowing full well that they’re going to break or be lost. We love them because we know it’s impossible to have them forever. My brother, immersed in a good taste, not only picked the same rose tinted Ray-Bans for me as Gwyneth Paltrow had, he also picked out the same the moral that is contained in an essential Buddhist parallel. Genius.
I, on the other hand, have spent most of the last 10 years trying to avoid truly loving or owning anything (people, possessions, places) because I don’t want to admit that they’re already broken and lost. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude leads to a lot of boring, spiritually stunted time in the Playground of Life.
And the point isn’t about clothes either. It’s about everything that falls under the Umbrella of Achievement. It doesn’t actually matter if all my clothing comes from clothing swaps. But it does matter that I find some way of entering a relationship of non-attachment with Success.
Again, I have my brother to thank for getting the wheels turning. On Thursday, he asked me to take him to his NY State Road Test in the Bronx so he could finally get a driver’s license. Granted, I am the only “under-employed” person he knows. But I was still very flattered…and also very nervous, a sentiment I tried to hide by suggesting we play “I, Spy” while we waited in line. (The fact that he agreed to it for at least one round was the biggest shock of the day.)
Then, his turn came. I got out of the car and made a break for a local playground to find a bathroom, filling my mind with positive energy and thoughts of perfect K-turns and spacious areas for parallel parking. Turn on your blinker, check your mirrors, glance in the blind spot… I repeated in my head. But then I realized something. While I wanted him to pass, I didn’t really care if he didn’t. I was just so excited to be the one who got to take him, to be the one marveling at the cleanliness of public toilets in the Bronx while he paused at the 4-way stop signs down the road.
I thought back to my own road test, and it occurred to me that I’d probably been immensely worried that my dad, who took me there, was going to be annoyed and disappointed if I failed. But of course, this was not the case. That is not what parenting, or loving, is about. Loving is the honor you feel when you get to be a part of someone else’s journey–when you get to be something slightly more than a passive witness for a few moments in another human’s existence. Pass, fail, lost, broken….whatever. I was, briefly, indifferent to the outcome.
(I’m sure the fact that the park bathroom had toilet paper and running water contributed to my happiness. After all, if the world is your playground, it doesn’t hurt to have one with a nice bathroom…but we get to learn from Nature, and I don’t think Punjali would judge me for being…..relieved.)
Anyway, all my spiritual growth was nice..but for naught. He passed the test. We had a dance party in the car. And I waited 25 minutes before shrieking at him for texting while being stopped at a red light.
He was not pleased. “You really to take a breath and pause before you scream at someone like that,” he told me. “You need to think about the tone of your voice, and whether it’s really necessary.”
I think I have a new guru. Bring on the teacups.