Practising Detachment

B L Razdan
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Josiah Soto) In the process of living, we keep balancing the myriad spheres of our lives. We also realise, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” (Robert Byrne) “No one gets out of this life alive. /So leave a footprint of your choice./ You are writing your epitaph./You are writing it now!/Life is a process, not a goal./Live it now, or you will miss it!/We have time to spend and no time to waste.” (Charles Franklin)
While we may not wish to acknowledge it, uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. Very little about our lives is constant or totally certain, and while we may have control over many things, we can’t control everything that happens to us. As the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated, life can change very quickly and very unpredictably. At times, uncertainty can be overwhelming, unless we decide to take control of it. Our actions during such times tend to define and shape our personalities, while better preparing us for the future. In the face of adversities, the path to success and happiness may seem rocky, but our choices can ultimately determine the desired end result. As they say, ‘nothing worth having comes easy’.
But we must always remember, especially the elderly among us, “The day will arrive when death comes to you, forcing you to let go of everything of every sort. That is why you should practice letting go well in advance so that you cab good at it. Otherwise – let me tell you – It is going to be difficult when the time comes. (Ajahn FuangJothiko) And eventually, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” (William Wallace) The Law of Detachment isn’t about not being involved in the world around you or giving up on your goals. Instead, it involves surrendering some control and developing a deeper trust in the universe. When we mindfully practice detachment, experts agree that we enter a space of receiving rather than resisting and allow life to present us with even more possibilities.
For some, the concept of detachment may be rather tricky to grasp. Being “detached” may sound cold and heartless. One may even ask, “why would I even want to feel detached? Some think that practicing detachment means disconnecting from emotions and caring less about the world around.” It may sound like a way to avoid pain; but it may also sound like a way to miss out on all the good stuff. It may sound like a boring, numbing, lonely way to move through life. In yogic philosophy, there is a lot of talk about how attachment is the root of suffering. There is an emphasis placed on practicing detachment in order to feel contented.
Getting out of codependent or enabling cycles and practicing loving detachment is one of the keys to having healthy relationships. Loving detachment means that you are separating yourself emotionally, spiritually and/or mentally from another person and what they’re doing, saying or thinking. Now, detaching yourself from other people’s behaviours and words is great, in theory, but it can be difficult to do in practice. It takes a lot of courage and strength to see that you can be happy no matter what other people do. It is easy; it is quite possible. According to Buddhist teachings and advice from psychologists worldwide, we create our own suffering through the desire to control outcomes and people. But if we can learn and apply the art of letting go in our lives, we can free ourselves from this suffering and find peace and happiness.
When we’re dealing with a major loss or strong attachment, we always need to begin by acknowledging and working with our feelings. These feelings are the stickiest aspects of attachment: the excited desire we feel when we want something, the anxiety we feel about losing it, and the sense of hopelessness that can arise when we fail to achieve it. Acknowledgment doesn’t just mean recognizing that you want something badly or that you are feeling loss. When you want something, feel how you want it-find the wanting feeling in your body. When you’re feeling cocky about a victory, be with the part of yourself that wants to beat your chest and say, “Me, me, me!” Rather than pushing away the anxiety and fear of losing what you care about, let it come up and breathe into it. And when you are experiencing the hopelessness of actual loss, allow it in. Let yourself cry, if you so like.
Find your own happiness. Don’t rely on other people to make you happy. First of all, it’s not their job, and secondly, you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated. Instead, find your own sources of happiness that you can fully control. Separate yourself from others. What your child, boss, partner or parent does or says is not you. Yes, our children are reflections of us to some extent, but their victories and losses need belong to them, and not you. Yes, your partner might have said something embarrassing at that party last night, but let them deal with the aftermath, not you. Yes, your parents might need to sell their home because they have made multiple poor monetary decisions, but that is their consequence to deal with. People can’t learn from their mistakes if they’re overprotected. It’s your job to support the relationships in your life, not direct or save them. Whether you are dealing with relationship troubles, navigating a family conflict, or struggling to find a healthy work/life balance, learn how you should let go.
Practice minimalism, which involves reducing your possessions. It is the practice of releasing attachment to material things. Living a minimalist lifestyle is about identifying what is essential and eliminating the rest. By doing this, you can remove distractions and focus more on and find more joy in the things that matter most. This aspect of detachment is also about letting go of the desire to own material things. It is pointless to sell or give away all your possessions if you then desire to buy more. Thus, this type of detachment involves investigating why you feel the need to own things and the emotions and beliefs around this.
Meditate. Meditation is a vehicle to help your mind release patterns of thought and action that no longer serve you. Spend some time in meditation each day and watch how the patterns in your life begin to change. Meditation helps you to contemplate the path you should take to realise your objective. As spiritual author Shannon Kaiser explains that the Law of Detachment is a universal spiritual principle that guides many faiths and comes down to separating yourself and your emotions from your goals. From a psychological perspective, neuroscientist and author of The Source Tara Swart, Ph.D., adds that “it takes time to build and strengthen neural pathways until you are ready for a new behaviour, relationship, or job.” And so, we don’t want to get caught up in timelines, overthinking, and doubts. “The spiritual Law of Detachment is about trust and surrender rather than control,” Swart notes. “When you are no longer tied to the outcome of how it must be, you free yourself up to abundant possibilities,” Kaiser adds.
Don’t react; respond instead. Reactions are the automatic fear responses we have. Instead, you want to take a breath and respond in a thoughtful way. Allow some space for others to come to their own conclusions. Allow some space for yourself so that you can think things through and keep yourself separate, while remaining kind and loving. “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus) “Before you act, listen. Before you react, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try.” (Ernest Hemingway) “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” (Deepak Chopra) “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” (Wayne Dyer)
You can feel compassion for someone else without having to act on it. You can be there for another person without taking any action or saying anything. Often the best help you can be is one of supportive silence. Ask questions to help the other person clarify their situation and create healthy solutions, but don’t fix it for them. Don’t volunteer advice or make suggestions. Let them find their own way(s). When you do something for someone else that they could do for themselves, you’re not helping them, you’re hindering them. Allowing others to face natural consequences of their actions is an important part of being in a healthy relationship. “You can be there for another person without taking any action or saying anything.” (Martha Beck)
Once you start detaching yourself from things that hardly matter, you start giving your attention to important things and people in your life that will bring your growth. Letting the things that you feel passionate about dictate your mood, your energy levels and your overall enthusiasm towards life is not a healthy approach as it suggests that you are not entirely in control of your life. You let external sources control your life. It’s time we start connecting with the people we’ve lost contacts with. You can learn from your past mistakes and let it reflect on yourself. Pay attention to your accomplishments rather than your failures. Make yourself feel good about them. Connect with your goals, prioritize what comes first. Staying connected releases oxytocin in your body making you feel happy and makes you feel good about yourself!
(The author is formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh. Post-retirement, he is actively associated with medical, educational, cultural and heritage issues and joined various societies and trusts to promote these objectives. Occasionally he contributes articles of contemporary relevance in Newspapers and Magazines. He is also of Vitasta Health Care Trust.)