A Beginner’s Journal: Detachment and Learning to Let Go

When I began working with Annemaree at Cool, Calm & Collected a few weeks ago, we thought it would be great fun to use me as a guinea pig ‘Yoga Beginner’ and to regularly write about my experiences.  For this, I was the most highly qualified candidate having never pratised yoga nor tried ‘journalism’ before.  Annemaree Rowley is one brave, trusting woman.  The peculiar irony of this is that after several weeks of yoga and meditation classes, my brain seems to have become coated in Teflon. Ideas for my next article seem to slip through my brain and disappear!  Nothing takes hold.  But – ah!  Hasn’t that been the whole point?

While a Slip’n’Slide mind can be tricky when you need to quickly recall PIN numbers, important dates, (or your name!),  an upside in my Yoga experience has been to learn detachment, aka non-attachment or ‘letting go’. By this I mean letting go of and not becoming attached to my thoughts, my fears, my doubts, my emotions and my opinions. When I catch myself attaching to my thoughts, I immediately begin to feel the same old feelings of resentment, anger, disappointment, worry and anxiety. I have been reading a bit about this concept of attachment and the suffering it creates, and the best (ie, the least “oogey-boogey”) description I have come across is this:

The primary cause of suffering as human beings is grasping and clinging, which then becomes extended into greed, hatred and delusion.  In our own lives, grasping and clinging create personal suffering.  When we cling to ideas, to things, to our separateness from others, to the way things are supposed to be, we suffer.  The more we grasp the more difficulty we have.  The more we learn to let go and live with the changing things of this world as they are, the more we live in peace. Even clinging to goodness can be a problem, as Thomas Murton said:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times”.

Clinging to our body, not wanting it to age; clinging to our children, not wanting to love them and let them grow as they should but trying to make them into what we want them to be; ALL these are causes of suffering

– Jack Kornfield, “The Beginner’s Guide to Buddhism”.

Before yoga and meditation coated my brain in WD40, when I was gripped with anxiety and boxing at shadows, I was desperately grasping and clinging.  The biggest cold shower for me is this concept of clinging to “goodness”. Before the calm I was CONSTANTLY over-scheduling – myself, the kids and the entire family. Fearful – God forbid – that someone might miss out on something.  Committees, school-help, kinder duty, swimming lessons, football clinics, trips to the zoo, the park, the beach, making, baking, creating together, date-nights, friends over, birthday parties. I was overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety if I had one spare moment to sit still.

Facebook does not help. On one hand it is a great way to feel connected with friends, old and new – but it has also left me quivering with exhaustion whilst observing a plethora of “magical mum moments and major mini-me milestones”.  I have often found myself not overwhelmed with joy for the latest status update, but trapped in some vast, virtual *Mother’s Group, thinking “CRAP!   I should be at the zoo / beach / pool / museum / aquarium! I should have slept overnight at Ticketek for Hi-5 / Dora / Wiggles / Thomas / Ben 10 concert tickets!  ARGH!  I should be baking cupcakes / making crayons / finger-painting!  We should be camping / skiing / rock-climbing / doing Europe!  Let’s not even get started on the Kids Birthday Party industry, or the extremes some go to for a tooth fairy / Easter Bunny / Santa Claus visit. Pass the Xanax, the Marlboro Lights and your finest bottle of Pinot Gris – thanks.

Well, no more.  No more “should” in my vocabulary.  Through meditation and yoga I am beginning to feel more at ease with the way things are. I stand more fully and more confidently within my own skin. I am not “over-committee”ing, over-committing, over-scheduling, trying to force things to be, or having anything be any way other than what it is.

The less I try to control everything and everybody around me, the greater grip I have on life with happiness never out of reach. My family is already happier with this paring back in our lives. More than any chock-a-block schedule of non-stop forced fun and activities, the most important and responsible thing I can do for my family is to be calm.  My family will remember for many more years to come (I hope) that I was NOT a raving lunatic; that I smiled a lot; laughed easily; and was far more fun to be with than any Dora the Explorer concert.

This doesn’t mean I have checked out of the family unit altogether.  You won’t find me in front of a shrine in the corner, legs crossed, eyes closed, blissed out and absent while the kids are in front of the TV!  There is still a hectic schedule of things to do and places to be throughout the week. Detachment doesn’t mean complete avoidance of reality!  Now, with less time being eaten up with fear and worry and anxiety, I actually seem to have more hours in the day to do all of things we enjoy.  The difference is I just don’t WORRY as much anymore.

*Mother’s Group: several women hurled together with little else than a postcode and having ‘reproduced’ in common. These groups are designed to help, support and nurture new mothers through the early days of parenting. In the author’s experience, once the first six months’ fog of sleep deprivation lifts, competition creeps in, cliques and splinter groups form, judgements arise and one can be better off smiling politely and backing out of the room slowly.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).



A Beginner’s Yoga Journal Part 2 – My first yoga class

I attended my first Hatha Yoga class last Sunday.

I had to shove all of my body, skill and fashion-based fears aside and come to terms with the fact that I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. You know…doe-eyed; rake thin; ultra-cool; effortlessly chic; clad head-to-toe in ‘Stella McCartney for Adidas’ gear; with matching yoga mat, tucked under my toothpick arm – hanging out of my ‘It Yoga Bag of the moment’…

I left the kids with Grandma to enjoy their own bliss – junk food and anarchy – and headed into the unknown.

I took the “loose, comfortable clothing” instruction literally. (Who are they kidding? I’m a mother of two young boys – that’s my entire wardrobe). I was relieved to see that everyone else in the class were literal too. No pretense, not a designer label in sight. Not one BYO yoga mat either. It was a wildly different experience from arriving at a gym class where there must be a sign on the door saying “Do Not Smile or Make Eye Contact with Other Class Members, You Don’t Know Where They’ve Been”; everyone was casual, relaxed and friendly.

The experience level of the class ranged from complete novice (Yours Truly among them) to very bendy 10- year veterans. That Lifer Yogi set – teacher Annemaree included – exude such grace and elegance. Like a small posse of blissed-out ballerinas; so serene, their eyes so clear with eyeballs so white! They were incandescent. If you squinted you could read by them in a dark room; stick them in a corner and enjoy a romantic dinner. I DEFINITELY want some of that!

During the entire class, Annemaree gently urged and subtly reminded us to move gracefully throughout and between the poses and stances. Easy for her to say! If there is such a thing as a “Gracefulness Spectrum”, Annemaree and the Light-Bulb Bunch swim in the “Gene Kelly / Fred Astaire” end whilst I, and a smattering of others, flail about in the “Edna Everage / Basil Fawlty” beginner’s pool.

Having a complete blank on my ‘left from my right’; falling over occasionally; bumping into the odd classmate; and wondering why the whole class was looking at me quizzically during a stretching exercise, I bless Annemaree for not singling me out. I eventually got it after her repeating “to the class” – in gentle crescendo – “Left leg over right and look left…And look left…And look left. And LOOK LEFT!”

The lack of pretense within the class and encouragement from Annemaree gave us all the good grace and humour to giggle and get on with it. The stuff-ups made the class all the more enjoyable – contrasting wildly with my previous experience “Grape-vining” right while everyone else went left. Step Classes? Don’t even go there.

Through the week leading up to my class I was moved by a blog article from zenhabits.com on “The 7 Steps to an Effortless Life”. Amongst the others, two steps stayed with me –  to “Do Less” and to “Have Less”. They became like a mantra each time I found myself slipping into the mental twilight zone of Mother/ Wife- guilt, about not doing enough, or being enough,or doing it right or not doing it like everyone else seems to do it. To close the class we did a deep, blissful relaxation-exercise and one phrase Annemaree murmured within it struck a chord; “Let go of the actions and behaviours which no longer serve you”.

As a recovering “highly intelligent, over-achieving, perfectionist, control-freak”, I immediately thought she was referring to my love affair with wine, drunken faux pas, and penchant for a cigarette or eight. But as the words sit with me now, I think it’s deeper than that. I think, for me anyway, it’s about letting go of that comfortable but harmful thought pattern of not doing enough, or being enough, or doing it right, or not doing it like everyone else does it. Basically, I need to shut the hell up. I AM enough.

I came home from that first class feeling lighter and brighter. However… before you think I’ve swallowed The Little Book of Calm (just like Manny did in an early episode of Black Books) and had some sort of divine transformation – I came home and had a glass of wine and a fag like they do in the movies after great sex. What can I say? I’m still a work in progress. I’m no longer seeking perfection, just inner peace and mental quiet. I will be going back for my next slice of ‘Incandescence Pie’.

P.S.  Check out www.coolcalmandcollected.com.au and meet Annemaree.  You may not be aware that this is her blog and she has been trusting enough to throw me the keys every fortnight to share my journal with you.

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).