Writings

Detachment


When I first encountered the word detachment in the spiritual teachings it made me very upset. Granted I was very young and believed that passion was the only rule of thumb to live by, not even knowing that passion came from the latin passio which means suffering...
Detachment
I got to understand detachment by confronting attachment, which is a very widely used term to describe one of the ways we suffer, and that to me too sounded like bull crap. Of course I was attached to my life, my loves and my views, it was what made me who I am and I almost felt insulted at the mere suggestion that there was something wrong about that.
Now I have gone a couple of rounds with both attachment and detachment, put them through the wringer and investigated what they meant to me and why they are important, and as with all things I've collected from Buddhism, of course they make sense, the Buddha was no fool, and once my defense came down the full relevance of detachment became very clear. But it's a hard realization to digest since it, like so many spiritual teachings, points to the fleeting nature of existence in this particular shape. It points towards death and the defaming of drama. To detatch is not to not care, which is kind of how the young me interpreted it, but it is to care so much that you don't expect anything in return. To detach yourself so completely from outcome, desired response, solution, praise or feeling that your words and actions become unconditional.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that you are inviting 10 people to a dinner. You have carefully selected you guests because they are friends, people you respect and are fond of. The dinner is a success, you were a shining yet unassuming host who provided excellent food and entertainment and everyone looked very pleased when they said their good byes. The week after you find out that one of your friends/dinner guests is holding a soiree much like yours, but you are not invited. This upsets you to the point where you complain, feel insulted and even consider severing all contact with that 'shitty guest turned host'. Now in your mind you have given a perfectly lovely gift with that elaborate dinner and that they didn't invite you back is just...! But what the situation and your feelings about it reveal is that you were not just hosting a dinner party, you were bartering, very much expecting something of similar worth in return. You were attached to outcome and have become miserable because of it. This attachment to result binds you, clouds your view with righteousness or judgement or jealosy and prevents you from seing the simple truth behind your reaction, which is that you feel hurt, that's all. It may not at all change your feelings when you consider the situation, but at least you are honest to yourself and see the bigger picture. And once you do, chances are that you will handle your hurt and the relationship to your friend more honestly, which at depth is usually more skilfully.
Detachment works in the service of happiness and proposes that we conduct our lives, speaking or acting without expecting anything specific in return. Or rather, not investing our happiness in having a particular effect to our cause.

If we look at detachment as a more moment to moment experience, it is to not cling on to whatever you are currently feeling, based in the understanding of the impermanent nature of all things, if that feeling is good. Or to detach from the suffering, the reactivity to the painful moments, once again understanding that all is subject to change. It implies the grand understanding of impermanence, that real happiness is unconditional and void of circumstance, and to attach it to anything is not seeing that.

 

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