Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: Please help me understand how one can stay in line with aspirations and goals yet avoid attachment to the outcome.
— Dawn M., Kapaau, Hawaii
A superb question and one that runs very deep. In our society, people want to be attached and view detachment as a kind of failure, surrender or state of indifference. But the truth is that detachment brings deeper fulfillment than attachment. For millions of people, that statement sounds preposterous, so let's go into it with the hope that once you understand detachment, getting rid of attachment will become much easier.
How do you know you are attached to something? The object of attachment can be anything: a great job, nice house, a satisfying relationship. It can be a prized possession or liking the way you look in the mirror. None of these things are attachments unless they pass one test: Are you afraid to lose them? Whatever you cannot lose without fear and distress, that thing is stuck to you. You identify with it. You are attached.
When any part of your life has an undercurrent of fear—even the prospect of fear—it isn't being enjoyed to the fullest. Imagine that you are standing on the beach in Hawaii soaking up a breathtaking sunset. Feel how that feels, how free and unattached you are. Now imagine if someone says, "The sun is going to blow up in five minutes," or "That's the last sunset you will ever see" or even, "You have a mortgage on the sun, and the bank is foreclosing tomorrow." Adding the element of anxiety decreases your joy by adding the element of "I."
It's because "I" may never see another sunset that "I" stay attached to it. So detachment doesn't mean letting go in the way people usually think. You don't say: "It's only money. Who cares?" Because deep down, everybody cares when it's "my" money. What this demonstrates is that attachment is always about the ego, not about the thing you are attached to. Your fear is for yourself, ultimately and truthfully.
Therefore, to stop being attached and really enjoy your whole life as if you were enjoying a spectacular sunset, you only have to do one thing: Eliminate "I" from the equation. Find your true self, which lies deeper than your ego, and something wonderful happens. You realize that no one can ever rob you of yourself. You are safe. There is nothing to lose that cannot be replaced and nothing to gain that adds to who you are.