Rather than going through life worrying about winning or losing, we experience more inner peace and blessings through opening to Grace and practicing Non-Attachment.
Years ago, I used to love playing card games on my computer (OK, occasionally I still do!). Yeah, I know, it’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I would sometimes spend hours obsessed with it. I noticed that I got quite annoyed with the “other players” — mind you, they’re just figments of the computer’s imagination — and frustrated when they were ahead. “I’m going to get you… I’m going to win!” I’d say to them. And then this thought arose – “no, you’re going to play your best, and whether you win or not is Grace.”
The concept of Grace may seem like a revolutionary idea, but it’s not a new one. It refers to when you are blessed with something, when the Divine gives you a sort of boon. What’s wonderful about Grace is that it’s unconditional. It’s not about how good you’ve been: it simply happens.
What is Grace?
The dictionary defines it as “the unmerited love and favor of God toward man.” I like this definition because it removes the idea that we have to earn Spirit’s love through merits, through being good. If we believe we have to behave perfectly in order to receive a blessing, then we will also believe that we’re somehow bad if we don’t, and then have to make up for it. This cycle of judgment and repentance goes on and on, swinging us back and forth on the pendulum of “good child/bad child.”
Grace isn’t like that. Grace is a gift, given freely. And when we don’t receive Grace, it’s not personal. It doesn’t mean we are wrong or bad, or didn’t do well enough. Perhaps it’s simply not time or in our best interests at the moment for us to have things the way we want.
Receptivity Helps, But Grace Isn’t Predictable
Grace, however, is also not random. The Divine knows when we are ready to receive, or when it’s most beneficial to experience something, and there we are — we have Grace. In fact, you may have had some experiences of Grace when you least expected it — and those are blessed experiences, indeed. Conversely, there are other times when we thought everything was just perfect, and it suddenly fell apart. Where was Grace then? Maybe, when we look back, we can see the purpose for that, but at the time it can be quite frustrating.
So, if we are simply going to receive Grace or not, and it’s not up to us, the question might occur to you — why try? Why put our effort into something if we don’t think we can get some sort of reward?
Well, that’s a commonly held attitude. Often, we have an expectation of getting something in particular out of what we’re doing, whether that’s money, attention, success, or love. And when we don’t get it, it’s upsetting. Yet, if we continue to go about whatever we do in life with expectation of reward, we constantly put ourselves on that see-saw of win/lose, happy/sad, good/bad. This leads us to discontent more often than not in our lives.
Non-Attachment Rather Than Expectations
The ancient sages taught us that, rather than have expectations, do your work and live in a state of non-attachment. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali said that the state of union — of oneness with the Divine — is achieved by practice and non-attachment. We do our best, and then we let it go.
According to TKV Desikachar’s translation, Patanjali emphasizes that non-attachment (Vairaagya in Sanskrit) is “an absence of any cravings, either for the fulfillment of the senses or for extraordinary experiences.” This is the ability to do anything without needing a certain result to feel OK. Everything is accepted, and we have a deep sense of peace within, regardless of the outcomes of our labors. Knowing we did our best is fulfilling in itself.
We continue on our paths of spiritual and personal growth not because we expect some reward (although rewards do motivate us!), but ultimately because we know it’s the greatest thing we can do. If our world were purely motivated by what we got out of everything we did, who would be giving freely from their hearts, in service to others? How much of our beautiful planet would be left? It is from non-attachment and selflessness that truly magnificent things are achieved.
As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements:
“…if you take action just for the sake of doing it, without expecting a reward, you will find that you enjoy every action you do. Rewards will come, but you are not attached to the reward. …if we always do our best, then we are really enjoying life.”
Grace and Non-Attachment Support Each Other
When we do our best and practice non-attachment, Grace just happens… when we least expect it. Because we don’t expect it. Non-attachment supports and opens us to Grace, in Divine timing. And in the meantime, being unattached to outcome, we can feel satisfaction in our efforts, regardless of what happens or when Grace shows up.
No matter how hard I tried at the card games, I won some and I lost some, too, even when I did my best. That is the nature of games… which is why it’s better that I just go back to my meditation cushion and yoga mat, and practice non-attachment. Grace will come when I’m not looking to win, nor avoiding losing.