By Nicholas Ruggero
Detached and at ease, I will dart past the Eagle to be free.
Carlos Castaneda (2013). “Eagle’s Gift”, p.307, Simon and Schuster
Detachment allows us to feel freedom and peace, even amongst the most turbulent emotional moments. So what exactly is it? Well, there is no one concrete definition of detachment. With that said, I can attempt to describe it as such: the practice of accepting what is, partnered with an expression of indifference to outcome – an uncoupling, a letting go.
Detachment allows us to view things soberly, rid of the distorted lens of emotion and desire. Far from rendering us into dull, emotionless robots, detachment births within us a capacity to truly utilise critical thought, allowing us the opportunity to select the highest (and often most reasoned) decision that benefits all involved.
Detachment is not the ignoring of a certain situation or feeling, nor is it the suppression of that very thing – rather, it is a total embracing of whatever it is that may be presenting itself to us, whilst refraining from being aggressively towed by the mind’s commentary on the event, without spiralling down the vortex of strong emotion. In the stoic sense, detachment may manifest in the form of remaining calm during times of fervent emotional turbulence.
The discovered benefits we may find through persistent practice of detachment are plentiful and enriching, a true gift of growth and development.
I hope this little guide provides the reader with easy tools one can use to develop the practice, and even bring about bouts of stillness, peace and joy.
“Simple isn’t easy”. These were the words ushered to me by my Zazen teacher. “The practice is simple, but simple isn’t easy”. I was soon to find that she was correct on both accounts.
Basic Zazen meditation really is simple: you sit in silence, while focusing on the breath. Should the mind wander, you gently bring your attention back to the breath. That’s it. Simple.
What I didn’t account for was the turbulent torrents of emotion, sensations, pain and discomfort that I was to feel during every sit. It was hard enough concentrating on my breath at the best of times – so how was I to contend with all this?
Little did I know that continued practice of this particular meditation was to fortify in me the ability to remain grounded when these experiences of sensation were to arise outside of meditation.
Therein lies the beauty of detachment: the opportunity to respond rather than react: dis-identification with transient emotions.
So, to begin with, set yourself a time, five minutes is a good time to begin with. For those five minutes, just notice and bring attention to the breath – perhaps the feeling of the air at your nostrils as you inhale and exhale.
Sensations, thoughts, feelings, even pain and discomfort will arise, and you may notice your attention drift with their arrival. Each time this occurs, gently bring yourself back to the breath. A good tip is to reward yourself for coming back to the breath rather than punish yourself for mind wandering.
Each sit is different, and frustration is almost guaranteed, but with continued practice you will begin to understand the basic foundations of detachment.
2. Sensation Focus
Observe and investigate.
It takes a courageous soul to walk towards and look directly at that which is causing them pain and discomfort. This movement however, is exactly what this practice entails.
Sensation focus is breaking away from the mind’s judgments and preferences regarding certain emotions, feelings and sensations, and instead takes careful note of how they are presenting.
For example, feelings of anxiety are often accompanied by various significant physical sensations. When these sensations arrive, it is time to observe and investigate.
Where in the body is this sensation felt? Does it have a certain shape? What colour is it? How big is it? Is it fixed, or moving? The trick is to attempt to place our focus on the sensation.
Asking these questions and detailing the answers provides us with space: space between us (our identity) and the feeling being presented. Attachment between what is arising and our sense of self is temporarily severed.
When we look closely at the sensations we are experiencing, it may dawn on us that we cannot possibly be both the sensation and the one witnessing the sensation.
Like meditation, this practice enables us to detach and withhold from getting caught amidst the chaos that is the interplay of strong emotional movement.
Withhold and refrain.
Listening, like meditation, seems very simple, but once properly understood, it is almost scary to find just how little we actually listen.
When I refer to listening here, I am talking about our ability to communicate on a level that refrains (as best as possible) from judgment – making what is heard wrong or right, or even inferior or superior. Let me explain.
Filtered through our conditioning and worldview, information we gather from others will almost always be distorted in some way or another. This is fine (as this is how minds work) so long as we remain detached from any further judgement.
The tendency is to judge, compare and even personally relate information others give us in an attempt of protection or elevating our sense of self – our ego.
To be clear, the mind operates via this mechanism, so it is perfectly fine to observe its working (its judgements and commentary). Detachment occurs when we choose to not act on these judgements as if they were truth.
Further to this, listening involves refraining from getting our point across at every given opportunity or at any cost.
Watch closely during conversation with others and we may discover that we have an inescapable itch to get our point across, make their points inferior, or somehow express how our experience of the discussed topic is somehow greater.
Listening with an open mind and open heart is akin to true meditation, and deepens the sense of detachment within us.
4.Indifference to outcome
If we watch carefully, we may observe our intention and motivation to manipulate the outcome of certain situations and experiences. We desire things to go a certain way, and understandably so.
Indifference to outcome breaks the chain of attachment to the future that is yet to come. This form of attachment can cause anxiety within us, and should things go differently than we desired, cause a host of unwanted emotional responses.
Indifference to outcome instils in us a trust in something greater than our limited idea of self. It slowly melts away the dire need to control, and allows us to see that everything will play out as it should.
We can apply this practice to many things within our lives, even to the tools within this short book. Take meditation for example. Often we may find ourselves expecting a certain emotional state to be reached at the end of every session.
This desired outcome however, may not be the case after every sit. We can feel frustrated, annoyed, even a little disheartened if we are tightly grasping onto this expectation.
Indifference to outcome also allows us to move on with ease when an idea, project or past desire has come to a close. If we remain attached in the face of defeat, we place unnecessary emotional weight and baggage on ourselves.
This practice enables us to remain open to the flow of life, showing us that there is time to move, time for effort, time to conserve and time to let go.
With this practice, we no longer need to fight with life, and may move gracefully in harmony with its ebbs and flows.
Nic is a naturopath, nutritionist, meditator and calisthenics instructor. His writings and work can be found on his website and Instagram: nicruggero.com @notesfrommyjournal