When non-yogis look in on the yoga world, there's a tendency to view yogis and yoginis as completely ethereal or somehow “separate” from the everyday events of the world. Well, in a way, yogis are and they aren’t.
You see, when it comes to the notion of living in this world, yoga teaches us to try and strike a middle path similar to the recommendations of the Buddha. It’s about striking a balance with the mutually coexistent concepts of detachment and contentment.
It's true that yoga teaches its practitioners the art of letting go and detachment, that simple but difficult idea that our emotions can frequently get in the way of how we react to the world around us. Put simply, detachment (and letting go) is the ability to face what is going on in the world, but with equanimity.
Detachment really is about enjoying the simple things in life. And this is where the other side of being “separate” from this world comes in. Because detachment isn’t about being unconcerned about the world around us. It's having the self-control and restraint to practice in real life what, for instance, one would practice in meditation – and that is, being aware but not reacting. It’s like taking the bull out of the bull ring; you know the ring is there, there's just no bull reacting to the red cloak.
As Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras,
“The consciousness of self-mastery is one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.” [I.15]
Patanjali’s little thread can so easily be attached to the current situation in Egypt, with prices rocketing and everyone feeling the pinch. An awful lot of planning goes into getting through each month alone. At the same time, it has an important lesson in teaching us what we really need in life rather than what we want.
It’s reducing the need for materialism, and dependence on items external to our soul, where 2 pairs of jeans is just as good as 4; where a few less lattes on the way to work in the morning means we lose our addiction and dependence on caffeine; where an evening at home over a meal works just as well as clubbing.
Unfortunately, what is on paper a simple sounding concept is very hard to practice in reality. Few people get the balance right and take the Buddha's perspective of following the middle road. We either switch off from the world around us and lose touch with what affects humans, or we get too emotionally and mentally involved.
As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, one has to be “sovereign of the senses, free from the clamour of likes and dislikes, such a one leads a simple, self-reliant life...” It’s when there is equanimity and acceptance, as well as contentment, that you find happiness.
Equanimity means you are unaffected by all that goes on around you, and remain content with what you have at this point in time. It means letting go of the world’s drama whilst being aware of what’s going on. And that brings us peace.