The Art of Detachment
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
For many of us, the only real world is the one in which we have our ordinary experiences, interact with our friends and family, and make our livelihood. It is a world populated by our established beliefs, habits, and memories, and it is dominated by what we perceive through our senses and feelings.
Detachment is a method for exploring our life from the perspective of our Inner Intelligence and Higher Awareness. It is performed by shifting attention away from our automatic focus on outer experiences so we can reflect on what they mean to us. It is a shift to a state of observing. The great opportunity that detachment creates is this ability to stand apart from our feelings and thoughts to view other possibilities for thinking or acting.
This change of attention allows us to be more aware of the nature of our reactions to both immediate and in past situations. Many of us are directed by habits and beliefs that we rarely question but, perhaps, need to scrutinize more carefully. Detachment, properly performed, enables us to explore where we need to update our perspective, reject immature attitudes, and revise how we manage challenging situations.
The Art of Detachment opens many opportunities for effective self – examination. For example, we may be harboring old beliefs and ideas that no longer serve our best interests. Or we may be overthinking our problems or being too self – critical. In this manner, detachment can become an important tool for the work of transforming our understanding and habits.
How Detachment Works
The practice of detachment can occur because our conscious awareness can operate on two different levels: first, to engage our life experiences, and second, to observe our reactions to what happens to us.
Most of us remain in a state of engagement with our sensations, memories, and feelings until something occurs that compels us to rethink what we believe and expect. Even then our old habits and attitudes tend to dominate this review.
The observational mode of thinking develops spontaneously as we come to question the quality of our knowledge, decisions, and behavior. The practice of introspection and self-examination, however, can often become muddled with defensive thinking and clogged in anxiety and frustration.
Detachment is a mental practice that can assist us to be more objective and less attached to our assumptions, and habitual reactions. This works by focusing on the deeper level of awareness in us that transcends the outer specifics of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
This is not some mystical state reserved for spiritual seekers. It is simply a quiet mental state available to each of us. Anyone who can learn to be calm can enter this inner part of awareness where we are already quiet and stable.
From this quiet state it becomes possible to peacefully review the continually changing movement of streams of thoughts and attitudes – especially as we react to outer events and changes. By remaining in the stable state of detached awareness, we can observe what happens to us – good, bad, or boring – with reasonable objectivity and without the heavy influence of agitated emotions, prejudices, or stereotypes.
Detachment is the art of learning to deliberately enter a mental state of calm observation where we can evaluate our experiences more objectively and make our choices of response more wisely.
Detachment Differs from being Disconnected or Empty
Many of us are confused about the process of becoming quiet and calm in our thoughts and attitudes. The intent should be to turn down the “noise” of agitation, obsessing, and moodiness—not turn off all awareness. It is comparable to adjusting our radio from a station with fast paced loud music to one that provides easy listening, soft, slower music.
Those who need a nap or want rest should proceed to seeking emptiness. But beware! This state turns off our awareness to new ideas, attitudes, and better possibilities, thus, shutting off the opportunity to learn and grow.
It is essential to keep our awareness “on” while learning to shift our attention to more subtle and quiet levels. This enables us to be receptive to new perspectives, ideas, and attitudes.
An example of how detachment operates would be to read an article about some topic on the internet and then turn off the internet and simply think about the significance and meaning of this information or opinions. This illustrates the difference between engaging the thoughts and sensations of our immediate reaction versus a more thoughtful evaluation.
Our instant thought or feeling originates in our reactive self. Our ability to evaluate these responses originates in our department of thoughtfulness and common sense.
Many of us have nearly abandoned our department of common sense in order to remain fully immersed in “keeping it real” and “staying grounded.” The pressure of our social group often discourages sincere and thorough reflection about who we really are and what we truly believe. However, part of our reality includes the consequences of our ideas and behavior. Detachment can provide a basis for stepping back one level to perform a more objective review of how our automatic programmed reactions may be affecting our Inner Self and our future.
The Practical Value of Detachment
One of the greatest benefits of detachment is to recognize how much control we have over our thoughts and emotions if we choose to exercise it. At an inner level, with our Higher Self, we can observe our rapid automatic reactions and shifting attitudes as we respond to external situations. This provides us with a conscious mental space to intervene with restraint or by substituting better choices.
This is comparable to being a passenger in a rapidly moving automobile. As we watch the scenery swiftly moving by us, we can observe what is interesting as well as irrelevant. When we want to stop and study some scene more closely, we can.
The use of detachment works the same way to objectively review the stream of thoughts and feelings that move about us. Instead of being immersed in programmed feelings or beliefs (or prejudices and stereotypes), the state of detachment provides the mental space to check for more appropriate views.
Those who practice the mental discipline of detachment often discover how often strong desires, fears, or discouragement control us far more often than we assume. This discovery can lead to opportunities to exert greater discipline to our unruly emotions and the liberation of our common sense.
Detachment also offers the possibility of widening our view of complex situations and memories. By backing away from immediate emotional reactions, it becomes possible to see all the pieces of puzzling events. This is a mental place that allows us to sort out events and place them into a more coherent pattern. In this manner it is possible to recognize important insights we have missed, discover where our anger or fear was triggered, and to identify alternative responses we can make from now on.
Another major benefit of detachment is to become more aware of how often we unwittingly allow our autopilot to control our life. Letting old habits of belief and attitude to operate can be both convenient and effective. However, it can also become too narrow and inappropriate as our life situation changes and we grow in knowledge, skill, and compassion.
There clearly are times when we need to observe more carefully what is occurring in and about us, examine the adequacy or inadequacy of our responses, and develop added insights concerning these situations.
Detachment is a practice that is designed to lift us out of the zone of the ordinary sensations and beliefs about our life – not escape them. They are, after all, the part of our life that is involved with our domestic duties, career, family, and a host of significant engagements that represent the functional part of our life.
The unique benefit of detachment is to enable us to recognize how often we are confined to our routine programmed belief system and habits in a manner that inhibits our growth. When we can observe our self and our stream of thoughts and feelings from a detached perspective, we are more able to perceive fresh insights. This can include a more profound understanding of what is truly most important to us and how we need to adjust our priorities to improve our outcomes.
The Spiritual Value of Detachment
The Art of Detachment benefits us in many important ways. The first is to help us peel back the heavy influence of our standard beliefs and habits based on our material sensations and earthbound expectations. This prepares us to view what is true and valid as opposed to the programmed reactions we have used as the basis of our interpretations and choices of response.
When we seek to know who we are as a spiritual individual, we need the skills of detachment to look behind our usual beliefs, desires, motives, and thoughts to see what actually is there. This is the equivalent of “looking behind the curtain” of our materialistic nature and habits. As this occurs, we can begin to be aware of our Higher Self and its nature. When we explore these possibilities, we will find that our Higher Self contains a purpose, design, and plan for living that is often quite different from our ordinary existence.
It is here in our higher human and Spiritual Self that we find the qualities, wisdom, and strengths that can fill in the weak areas in our personality. Here are the resources we need to heal the areas of discouragement, fear, hostility, and apathy that our personality alone cannot repair. In our Higher Self we can find the meaningful purpose and priorities that bring peace and fulfillment.
Detachment plays a vital role in guiding us to a place in our awareness where we can comfortably relate our material experiences and duties to our innate spiritual nature and qualities. It is here is where we can achieve a working – not passive – relationship with our spiritual possibilities and our Higher Self.
The Role of Detachment in Active Meditation
As we identify more with our Observing Self rather than our reactive or engaging self, we also can become aware of the Life behind our capacity to know, sense, be, choose, respond, or just observe. At this level we can contact our spiritual nature and its insights, qualities, and power.
Detachment is an opportunity to be more objective in our awareness and to visit the Life Essence of who we really are. From there we can engage the wisdom of our Higher Self and the qualities and abilities that reside at this level of awareness. And with persistence, we can develop a working relationship with our Higher Self as a resource for guidance, comfort, renewal, and enlightenment.
The Art of Detachment can open all these doors so we can move into the observing state and bypass our ordinary beliefs and sensations. Then we can more readily explore our higher spiritual potentials and destiny for a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Detachment, in this manner, is a vital tool for effective self-examination and for preparing us to seek contact with our core, our Spiritual or Higher Self.