As I walked along a forest path at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat one morning, I observed an unusual drama unfold before me. Crouched a few yards ahead was Lottie, a fluffy little gray cat who kept the Retreat’s kitchen free from mice. Her gaze was concentrated on something in front of her, and by her intense crouching pose, I could tell she was about to pounce on it.
But moments before she sprang, I saw something shoot off nearly ten yards ahead and lie wriggling in the path. Quietly drawing closer to find out what was happening, I saw that Lottie now held in her jaws the small, limp body of a lizard: a brown skink. These lizards have a remarkable ability to project their tail when attacked. Sure enough, the detached tail was what I’d seen thrashing around farther down the path.
Confused by the movement, Lottie dropped the skink, which began creeping into the underbrush, and ran after the tail. After holding the bony appendage in her mouth for a few moments, the cat realized that she’d been tricked, and ran back to catch the lizard, which was still in sight.
Much to my amazement, this spectacle repeated itself: the detached tail, still thrashing around, caused Lottie to drop the lizard once again and run after it. The second time, however, the little lizard was quicker and escaped to freedom, leaving Lottie with only a bony snack for all her efforts.
Watching this singular drama play out before me, my mind was in a whirl. I continued on my way to the Retreat’s dining room for breakfast, and shared the story there with my friend Seva. “Surely there’s some spiritual lesson in this,” I said to her.
Without missing a beat, Seva replied with one word: “Detachment.”
As amusing as this story is, there is in fact a deep message in it for all of us. Non-attachment is one of the fundamental attitudes on the spiritual path. Why?
When we are firmly held in the jaws of suffering, it’s important to cut loose that which is holding us back: that unfulfilled desire, or unattainable possession, or unsatisfied expectation of how others should treat us.
We also should seek inwardly to release things of a positive nature to which we’re attached—our possessions, our friends, our children, our spouse. This doesn’t mean that we reject them or give them the cold shoulder; rather, we should try to see them not as ours, but as gifts on loan to us from God. Then everything in life becomes much sweeter, as we begin to perceive God’s presence behind everything.
Is this easy? Of course not, but it is effective. Every time we inwardly detach from something troubling us or to which we’re clinging, we gain control over our happiness and our lives. In his book Affirmations for Self-Healing, Swami Kriyananda wrote:
Nothing is ours. No one belongs to us. Mentally, we should make a bonfire of our love for God, and cast into it all attachments, all desires, all hopes and disappointments.
It helps mentally to examine one’s heart every evening, and liberate it anew of all desires. Pluck out from your heart any burrs of new attachments that you find clinging there. Cast them joyfully into the fire of devotion.
Pray to God energetically, “I destroy all my attachments. They are no longer mine, Lord. I am free in Thee!”
Here Swamiji offers us practical tools to aid in this process of detachment. Ultimately the choice is very simple: cling to your old attachments or find freedom in God.
In case you’re wondering, brown skink lizards do grow back a new tail. But for us, may our tale end when we replace all of our attachments with the one attachment to God alone.
Towards inner freedom,
Listen to Devi as she reads the blog, then expands on it, often adding special behind-the-inspiration stories and answers to common spiritual questions. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (9:27):