Learning to let go: Back to school and the art of detachment. 3 ways to release expectations and calm down.

It’s back-to-school and there’s a new energy in the air.  Whether you are directly affected by this change in “season” or not, you have likely noticed a change in vibration.  Here we go, headed into a season of busy-ness and  the stress that goes along with it.

With my teaching schedule, I often find myself with several breaks in the day of about an hour and often head to a coffee shop for a decaf whatever and to catch up on a little work.  So I have the opportunity to overhear lots of interesting conversations.  Last week, I observed numerous parents with young children discussing the start of the school year over a blueberry muffin or other snack (most often, it really was a blueberry muffin).

The conversation went something like this:

Parent:  Aren’t you so excited about school?

Child:  I guess so.

Parent:  Well, I think this is going to be just the best year ever.

Child:  Really?

Parent:  Yes, because you are so smart, and you are going to make so many friends, and your teacher is so lucky to have a student like you in class!

Child:  Can I have another muffin?

Okay, there are some variations in the theme, and most of us would agree that this is a very upbeat conversation coming from a parent who is committed to shoring up the child’s self esteem before sending the child out into the world outside of the house.  I also found myself rooting for the kid and hoping for a great day.

And, the day will likely go well.  We are talking kindergarten or first grade, and, from my point of view now, that looks pretty fun.  But the day does not always go well.  Sometimes the teacher overlooks the child’s best efforts, or calls on someone else when the child has his or her hand raised with the perfect answer.  Sometimes, the kids are cruel and say things that hurt.  Sometimes the subject matter is hard to grasp.  There are lots of things that can and do happen in any day.  There are highs and there are lows. As adults we know that intellectually,  and still it’s  hard to let go of how we think things should be.

We set high expectations for the best outcomes and attach to them.  We manage situations and others to try to control outcomes so that they match our expectations.  Which can get in the way of the real experience or set us up for disappointment.

In the Bhagavad Gita, it is written:

“Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness….there is no cause for worry.” 

This is not a parenting blog, and I am not advocating that parents paint an overly realistic picture of all the potential pitfalls of the first day of school.  I’m here to mull over the implications of our cultural habits and explore other ways of looking at things based on the principals I have learned and now teach in Yoga.

Life is unpredictable.  And if we acknowledge that it is, that alleviates a lot of stress.  Particularly the stress of trying to control a situation.  So how can we detach from our expectations so that we can “amass the wealth of spiritual awareness” and stop worrying?  Here are a few ideas that will help you “roll with the punches” of certain changeability:

  1. Identify your attachments; name your expectations.  We are often so busy acting and reacting that we are not even aware that we are being influenced by our attachments and expectations.  We need to pause for a moment and observe ourselves to begin to understand these things.Try this: Sit quietly for a few minutes, noticing the breath as it comes in and goes out.  Then begin to “watch” your thoughts as they begin to surface and draw your attention.  Just notice without judging or trying to change them, and don’t attach to them. After a few minutes, open your eyes and then take a few notes about any attachments or expectations that came up.
  2. Live in the present moment.  This seems obvious, we are here now.  But are we?  We often live in our heads, delving into the past or projecting out into the future.  When we do that, we really aren’t able to live in the present moment.  When we look to the past and wish we could change it,usually our desires are based on a difference between our expectation and what actually happened.  When we anticipate the future, we develop more expectations about what it should be like. Try this: Focus on the breath, because the breath really is happening “right now”.  Inhale through the nose and count how long it takes you to bring the inhale all the way in.  Then exhale for the same count.  Continue for several rounds, staying focused by matching the inhale and the exhale.  After a few rounds, you may lengthen the breath, extending both the inhalation and the exhalation for a  count or two longer, ensuring you breath is still even.  After a few minutes, open your eyes and take note of how you feel.
  3.  Try something that you’ve never tried before. That way, you have no expectations or attachments to add. Try this: Choose something that you have never experienced before.  This could be a new food, a class, traveling to a new place, or anything.  Before you try whatever it is , observe what you expectations about the experience are. Acknowledge that these are simply expectations and that you really don’t know what the new experience will be like for you.  Then approach it with an open mind and observe  your responses.  Be open to whatever happens!

Of course we all hope for the best for ourselves and for others.  But let’s just not get too attached…

What are you favorite ways to let go of attachments?

Be well,


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