Practical detachment

Fringe benefits are gains that accrue from remaining somewhat detached in our lives, and not by living on the edge

Sitting near lakeTo many, detachment is bad advice. There lies the crux.

Detachment is also a misunderstood word. The fact is: to be detached is by no means something that relates to remaining uninvolved, either from people in your life, or issues, or events, occurring around you. Detachment simply means to be there, whenever you’re needed, or whatever is expected of you and, perchance, remain detached from the outcome of your endeavours.

For example, consider a parent who is intensely involved in his/her adult child’s life, and constantly dishing out unsolicited advice. If the same parent were detached, s/he would not proffer unwanted advice [for it is usually not given its due], or even if s/he does, s/he would not be unduly worried, or upset, if it were not heeded.

A state of calm

To be detached is to invoke a state of calm in your life, and also accept what is within your control and vice versa. You have heard of the prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Right?

This reflects a detached state very well – do what you can whole-heartedly, when you realise that it will make a difference. If you truly cannot change a situation, you will neither fool yourself into thinking you can, nor will your peace of mind be threatened. And, if you try and do not succeed in altering circumstances, you will accept the result as inevitable and not lose your heart, or your zest for life.

Thus, while detachment helps you to stay calm and collected, it, by no means, requires you to be indifferent, or unconcerned. Quite the contrary: detached persons are able to express empathy with those who suffer. Empathy is radically different from being sympathetic towards someone who feels pain, and much more useful. To express empathy is to give someone suffering the attention, but not “hurt them” as sympathisers sometimes do. Empathy involves a measure of detachment. It helps one tide over a presenting difficulty.

Meaning of life

Detachment actually has a lot to do with striking the right balance between involvement and separation. Perhaps, this is the reason for many to fear detachment, or link it with an ascetic life. Usually, when people speak of enjoying life, or getting the most out of it, a sense of total involvement – physical and emotional – is a foregone conclusion. Hence, detachment seems to send the signal that a person will miss out on some experience life has to offer.

Take for example, success. Success requires whole-hearted involvement in every endeavour – don’t we speak of doing our best? To be partially involved is, therefore, in many ways to be neither here nor there – this is boring and a waste of time! However, in reality, detachment is a skill that takes hold once your involvement is over, or after you have done your best.

Power points

Detachment underlies strength – an inner power to accept and change. Still sceptical? Think of the interesting mathematical concept, which focuses on the power of a point in relation to a system, represented as a circle. It explains that a point has a positive value when it lies outside the system, or circle. Thus, all the points within the system [circle] have negative values; the points on the edge have neutral values, and those situated outside the system have positive values.

When applied to our lives, this concept yields an interesting analogy. Any endeavour – whether physical or emotional – is represented by the system, or circle. Our state of mind – implying whether we possess the energy to apply corrective measure/s to a failing system – is represented by the power of the point. When we are caught up in a failing relationship, or work situation, we are often unable to think straight. We do not have the strength to rationally deal with the circumstances confronting us. Why? Because, we are standing in the midst of the problem.

However, if you could apply your detachment skills when facing challenging situations, by standing apart from the issue [system], you would be able to see things more clearly. Heard of bird’s eye-view? Standing back often helps take in the whole picture!

Put simply, detachment helps pin-point our own weaknesses and, thus, enables us to adopt strategies and resolve problems.

Detachment and Meditation

Detachment has a deep association with meditation, since the latter commences with the practice of detachment. Try this – keep a postcard, or picture, of a pleasant scenery in front of you. Sit down comfortably [but don’t slouch!] in a quiet place and breathe deeply. Try to concentrate on the scenery. Imagine yourself walking through the scenery – if it depicts mountains, imagine yourself breathing-in fresh mountain air!

Now, watch your thoughts. You will find that as you try to concentrate on the scenery, innumerable thoughts enter your mind and vie for your attention. Gently remind yourself of your task and bring back your attention to the scenery.

If you successfully disregard wasteful thoughts that threaten your thought process, you exhibit your detachment skills. Meditation actually helps people practice detachment in real life.

To be detached from wasteful thoughts while meditating does not entail fighting such thoughts. It simply guides your mind towards concentration, by repeating positive, encouraging messages in your mind – who am I? Example: “I am the master of my mind.”

Just the same: to be detached in real life does not imply being disdainful towards people, or situations, that do not yield to the responses, or outcomes, you desire. It simply means accepting good and bad, as part and parcel of life.

So, the next time someone insults you, try not to react by retorting, or withdrawing into a shell. Tell yourself your own opinion is more important. Step back as a detached observer and grant your mind the strength to think positively over the situation. Are you, by any chance, at fault? How can you improve relations? The answer is within you.

It’s detachment. Practice it, and you will be a winner all the way!


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