Bhakti: The Dance of Love & Detachment

Your heart must become a sea of love. Your mind must become a river of detachment.”

Sri Chinmoy


It may seem somewhat counter intuitive that many spiritual practices believe that the only way to find deep love and connection is to practice detachment. Detachment or ‘non-attachment’ basically teaches us to free ourselves of any addict-like behavior. This behavior can come in the form of the consumption of material objects or the treatment of others as if they are objects to be consumed by our desires or to fulfill our needs. This type of self absorption can actually keep us from seeing things around us and appreciating them for their inherit value. By freeing ourselves from attachment to material objects or desires (practicing healthy detachment) we can actually open the way for deep attachment and interconnection to the rest of the world- the earth, other human beings, and animals.

Many spiritual practitioners call this recognition of the interconnectedness of all living things, seeing the “divine”. The practice of Bhakti helps us to see the ‘divine’ or the ‘beloved’ in every living thing and to honor it through devotion.

What is Bhakti?

The Sanksrit word ‘Bhakti’ encompasses a multi-layered meaning of Love. Bhakti is not just about ‘love,’ but Capital-L ‘Love’: faithfulness, devotion, zeal, sharing, caring, belonging, worship, homage, and faith. Bhakti means to give unconditional Love and servitude to the universe, to serve others compassionately, to give of oneself whole-heartedly, without expecting anything in return. Bhakti is an active practice because some kind of action is required for others to feel a sense of belonging and feel cared for. Action is needed to devote oneself to the betterment of human-kind.

How to Practice Bhakti

There are many ways to practice Bhakti: choosing veganism, caring for a small child, protesting for the rights of asylum seekers or smiling at a stranger because they look sad are just a few examples. And because it is an active practice, Bhakti has the potential to be revolutionary. It can affect the practitioner’s way of seeing other people and themselves, thereby shifting how they interact with everything in the world around them. Acts of kindness, caring, empathy, respect and service are the ways of showing devotion and deep Love towards the divine, or towards the interconnectedness between all living creatures. The practice of Bhakti requires intense focus on and concentration towards (giving space and listening to) other living creatures outside of the self. It requires examining how to serve them with honor and respect.

By utilizing aspects of Bhakti, it is possible to develop kindness and Love towards other living creatures.Heart-opening yoga postures (back bends, twists, reversed hand locks) and meditation on the heart chakra along with Anahata meditation, (chanting YAM while visualizing a 12-petaled green lotus), can assist in connecting with Bhakti, as well as asking oneself the simple question:

What can I do to help others?”


The Beauty of Detachment

There are many views on the concept of “detachment”. Some people believe that learning
detachment is useless because life should be lived to its fullest. Others believe that practicing
the art of detachment is dangerous because if nothing affects us we cannot rid the world of its
many injustices. Others believe that detachment is a source of strength and inner peace.

Pratyahara, the yogic word for detachment, has often been badly misunderstood. Yes, we
should live life vividly and enjoy it. Yes, we should speak out against injustice and take
action. But there is also strength in learning how to practice proper detachment which can
help us all to live better lives.

Imagine you are looking at a painting about life. Imagine that you are standing so close to
the painting that your nose is practically touching the painting. All you can see are a couple
of colors and shapes. You are too close to be able to look at the whole picture, to even know
what the painting is about. You are too attached to what is happening right there in front of
your nose and are incapable to see further. Now say you decide that you want to back up
from all the vivid colors and non- understandable shapes and so you distance yourself to about
a kilometer away. You look at the painting again but you are so far away that you can only
see a fleck of something. Once again you cannot know what the painting is about. And this
is where appropriate detachment comes in. You need to find the appropriate distance, not too
close and not too far, to be able to truly appreciate what the painting is.

This same idea is valid for our lives. We need to cultivate the appropriate detachment to be
able to see what our life is about. We can’t be too involved or too distant. By finding just the
right distance, we can see what piece of the puzzle is missing and where to place it. This way
we can live life vividly but without being blind to the problems of it. This way we can rely on
our inner strength to change what needs changing.

Pratyahara is an important step of Raja Yoga. In our English yoga classes in Berlin, we learn
detachment through observing our bodies and respecting the limits our bodies set. We also
learn this through the practice of Tratak, or candle gazing. But mostly we learn it through
the practice of Yoga Nidra. Exercises such as counting your breaths backwards without
interfering with its rhythm are perfect ways to learn detachment.