being detached, or just being …

detachedSome philosophical and religious systems claim that attachment is our source of being unhappy. There is indeed a great truth. If the world, and everyone and everything in it, is not the way we expect it to be, this results in being unhappy in various degrees.

However, the opposite of being attached might even be a bigger source of unhappiness. The realms of detachment, are the realms of emotional numbness. An emotional numbness similar to what we experience during the silences of depression. And some of those who favour being detached, become attached to their detachment. Some become intolerant of our societies and our ‘shallow’ consumerism. Detachment goes further, and looks to numb the senses. Gone sensuality, beauty, awe, … in the end self-respect. There is a truth in not touching fire not to get burned, but there’s another saying: “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Being detached, or being attached, both belong to our dual world. Words with an opposite, like many adjectives, are a cause of separation, division, and hence intolerance. We call such concepts dual. Fast or slow, dirty or clean, theist or atheist … the one implies the existence of the other. And so we invented good and evil.

In any dual mind, there is ‘us’, and ‘the others’.
Whatever gives ‘us’ more power and control is called good.
Whatever gives ‘us’ less power and control is called evil.

How large and encompassing ‘us’ is, depends on the development of love/compassion in the individual and the society she belongs to. For a narcissist, someone with the emotional intelligence of a 3 year old, ‘us’ = me. For a conformist ‘us’ means my nation and all those therein or my religion and all its members. And one could perhaps say that for a humanist all humanity = ‘us’. In extenso, some individuals count ‘us’ as all living beings on earth. They shouldn’t have a tag, and if they do, I forgot about it. They don’t exclude, and any tag excludes and opposes and divides.

So, if you really love life, being neither attached to, nor detached from, anything, and you feel love and compassion for every being, fearless but respectful, you are well one the way of non-duality. If you combine this non-duality with a fully realized knowledge of the nature of mind and self, you might find yourself enlightened sooner or later – but then it doesn’t matter any more.

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23 thoughts on “being detached, or just being …

  1. I very much appreciate this post Bert (I still get your stumbles sent to my account on SU, although I rarely use it since they overhauled it a couple of years ago). I think a big issue goes to the idea of detachment. People can’t seem to understand that not being attached to an outcome doesn’t mean you are not fully engaged with life. To your point, this is that dualistic thinking hard at work, i.e. if I’m not attached, then I’m unattached. This means to people if I’m not attached, then I don’t care. This is so far from the point. The way I’ve blogged about it I prefer to say that we practice being unattached to relationships and things, but fully engaged with life in this moment. I use the example of when someone is a parent they need to be unattached from their child’s future, but fully engaged with the present moment. So if you want the best future for your child, you don’t force them to always do their homework and yell at them if they fail (all signs of attachment), but you stay engaged with them, helping them with their homework and nurturing their talents. Then you follow where that path goes instead of being attached to a specific outcome.

    Anyway, that’s how I think about it. My last two cents (although I think I’m beyond that) is that attachment is often caught up in outcomes in the future and seeing things as a person wants to see them. Being engaged with life means being with what is.

    • Well, a lot of ‘spiritual’ folks get caught in whatever dharma flows their way, then become zealots in it. Often they have no idea what they do. So it is with not being attached, becoming detached. Being detached is close to being depressed in many ways.
      When I read encyclopedia Britannica article on Buddhism, so many years ago, I had the impression that the researcher who edited the article had indeed this idea about Buddhism. Now an encyclopedia might not be the best way to start researching spirituality, but I have recognized the described traits in many followers. However, I also noticed that lamas didn’t seem to care about the article 🙂
      “I prefer to say that we practice being unattached to relationships and things, but fully engaged with life in this moment”
      This looks like a good way of expressing it. Being capable of letting go when the time is there but not being without emotion. An emotion that lasts minutes in the emotional brain, then becomes grief in the mental mind that can not let go.

      I very much appreciate your comment. And I often go and peek at your site to see what is going on there too. I’m a bit late replying having been busy closing the academical year. Hoping to see you again, here, at your site, and at SU.

  2. The paradigm of detachment was born from Patriarcial – male oriented modes of thinking.
    Cherish is not part of that mode of “enlightenment”, yet cherishing life and respecting the ways of Nature, are liberating.

  3. “…some of those who favour being detached, become attached to their detachment.”

    It has been like a drug to me, at times. Completely detached, uninvolved, and ‘objective’ observation of the world destroying itself, people hurting others, people living superficial lives. It was a silent contempt for the world that gave me (my ‘us’) more power.

    “…you might find yourself enlightened sooner or later – but then it doesn’t matter any more.”

    Lao Tzu says that those who grasp after it. lose it. Those who don’t, it seems, achieve it. If I make little of it, not making it ‘matter’, I may find myself to have achieved it. I’m not sure it’s what your original statement actually meant, but as I read it, it’s a valuable lesson about reaching enlightenment.

    • I have noticed that the few people whom I consider enlightened have emotions, are involved, have passion for living and life, a passion that translates into love and compassion. They know anger, but they barely ever express it, and they eat meat in moderation.
      I think this image is important. They have seen emptiness and know the relativity of all, but they didn’t stay in that place and went beyond. Wanting to live a life on earth helping others to lead a happier life and removing their suffering.
      There is nothing wrong with the path of the stoic. It eventually leads to levels far beyond. And at that moment, that you have reached such a level of enlightenment, it doesn’t matter anymore. A child wants to become an adult, but it has to wait – there is nothing the child can do to hasten the process. But once an adult, it doesn’t matter anymore.

      • I have bipolar disorder and had to struggle with detachment issues during the throes of depression. It is a terrible, empty feeling. But I had to accept it in order to find some sense of peace. But now that I am stable, I do not take my ability to feel for granted. I feel to the fullest, cry when I need to, get angry but control it, and just accept every feeling that comes my way. It has allowed me to live peacefully, to accept every moment as it is, every breath that I take. I am human and embrace my humanity, including all the painful parts that come with being human. While depression has increased my sensitivity, it has also heightened my compassion so that I judge people less and want to help more.

        • Thank you, Amber, for your first hand description of depression and its numbness. A great contribution to this dialogue.
          Perhaps having experienced the extreme of numbness is important for returning to the middle path and appreciating it fully.

          • It is. Some people wish they had no emotions, but once you experience that lack of emotions, you appreciate your ability to feel and to feel deeply even more.

            • I came to realize, but I don’t remember when, that I will always have emotions. I can suppress them or repress them, but if I do, I will fail being me, being human. So I have started to appreciate sadness next to happiness.

  4. Basically, unless we are enlightened, we can’t win. I have always opted for love and have found it but it comes wrapped up with fear of loss and in the past it came with rejection. I’d still make the choices for love if given the chance to do over my life. Love can being you to God.

    • If we do not expect to win, we do not lose. If we do not expect to keep love, we will not lose. If we do not expect not to be rejected, we will not feel rejected, just a no. In a post from billings, I read: “Isn’t the possibility of no better than the guarantee of having nothing?”
      But this is all much easier said than done, I know.

  5. “Attached to detachment!” – very well put – sublime post!
    Despite or because I know I am guilty of ranting a lot on my blog about “kafkaesque systems”, “the corporate world”, “acedemia” etc. (Probably I also wrote about consumerism ;-)) I can wholeheartedly agree.
    I believe we as human beings are never free of contradictions, tensions within ourselves. When I criticize “systems” I do typically not exclude myself from the intended target audience although this sounds as a contradiction. I believe finally it is about not taking yourself too seriously and making fun of yourself at times. The power of humor cannot be overvalued.

    • It’s never a bad thing to put sources. Perhaps I should start a list on inspiring literature and non-fiction.
      On this particular post: … where does it come from … ?
      A synthesis, in my head, inspired by (1) Chogyam Trungpa’s film “crazy wisdom”, (2) Ken Wilber’s book “the atman project”, (3) an inspirational moment in my car, and the memory thereof 36 hours later, (4) various talks by Scott Kilobi and Adyashanti, (5) a conversation 10 days ago with a friend on the phone, (6) some ideas from Friedrich Nietsche, (7) my not so joyful personal experiences with detached people, (8) a quote from Lord Tennyson, (9) my state of not-knowing …
      So, many ideas come from outside, I only bring them together.

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