Act with no attactments, let go of the outcome.

Act with no attactments, let go of the outcome.

I have been thinking this week about attachments to outcomes. One of the principles of mindfulness is acting for the sake of the action, and not for the sake of the outcome. For example, we wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes, not because we want a clean kitchen. If we wash dishes for the sake of washing dishes, then we wash mindfully, with attention to the task and the present moment. When we want a clean kitchen, we rush through it without mindfulness. 

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There is a similar principle in the Bhagavad Gita, when the god Krishna tells Arjuna to give up the attachment to results, and devote all his actions to god, or Krishna. 

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You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

(2:47-48) 

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That is a tough standard to live up to — can anyone say that all her actions are unselfish? Can anyone act without any attachment to the outcome? This message from the Bhagavad Gita is challenging. How do we apply it to real life? 

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Applying the Bhagavad Gita to real life 

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I have started a new teaching job, and this week was my first day. I am teaching “expressive arts” at the Chester County Youth Center, which is a shelter for girls and detention for boys. The ages of the kids at the CCYC range from 10 to 18. It isn’t a jail, but a place for the kids to be until their cases are settled or foster homes secured. 

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So this week was my first day, and the class bombed. 

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Our lesson plan went up in smoke. I was the assistant to the “lead” teacher, and she was nervous. She is usually the assistant, not the lead. The girls in class sensed her discomfort and used it against her. They probably didn’t do this consciously, but it happened anyway. 

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Without going into a lot of boring details, the lesson failed because one of the girls refused to participate, and the other girls followed her lead. One of the girls had a negative attitude, and before we knew it, the whole discussion turned negative. I was completely unprepared for that, and I didn’t have enough training to jump in and rescue the lesson. I walked out of there feeling as if I’d been hit by a truck.

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Acting without attachment to the outcome 

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Did I act without attachment to outcome? Of course not! I was hoping for a fun 90 minute class! I was hoping to lead the girls in a centering exercise that would make them feel relaxed and safe. I was hoping to give them writing prompts and respond positively as they shared their writing. I was hoping to make a difference in their lives.

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How would things be different if I didn’t get so attached to the outcome? For one thing, I wouldn’t be beating myself up about it now. I could let it go more easily. I wouldn’t have felt that defeat so much in my gut. I would have ditched the lesson plan and come up with another, more positive, approach to the topic.  

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Failure is a painful but useful lesson

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Yeah, we failed. But as I have told my daughters over and over, the failure part doesn’t matter as much as what you do with that knowledge. I had a long talk with the program leader and she gave me some tips and resources. I didn’t quit — I am willing to try it again. I still think I have something to offer these girls. 

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I also know, through my years of experience teaching, that on the days when I walk in to teach a yoga class with no plan, no thought of “getting through” to my students, and no wish to instruct them, that’s when I teach the best class. That’s because I am not attached to the outcome. I just teach. I remain open to my intuition, so that when it speaks to me during class I can follow it, even when it seems like something crazy. 

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I’m not ready to walk into the youth center and teach with no plan, but maybe next time I can teach for the sake of teaching, as the mindfulness practice suggests. Maybe I can let go of any expectations of “reaching” these teenagers, and just share my knowledge with them. 

I’ll let you know how it goes. 

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Suggestions for further introspection: 

Write about a time you acted without attachment to a reward or outcome. How did you feel? 

Write about a time when you acted with selfish attachments. What happened, and why? How did you feel? 

Think of one place in your life where you can make an effort to act with no expectations of rewards. How would you approach this situation differently? 



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