Cultivate the ability to step aside

By Janina Gomes

Detachment is not non-involvement in the world, but the ability to step outside and reflect on our situation and remain detached from any desired outcomes. The paradox of life is that in order to acquire something you have to relinquish your attachment to having it.

We can get attached to many things such as money, relationships, status, power, persons and have feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, hopelessness, sadness, pride, vanity and disconnectedness. These feelings mostly arise from attachments to things and people. I have to often make a fine distinction between what i write and who i am. When i stop writing, i am still who i am.

Tamara Lechner, a certified meditation instructor, gives us five steps to help us detach ourselves from self. The first step is to observe our minds and the kind of thoughts we habitually think. We have to become students of self and heighten our awareness of where attachment comes from. We also have to recognise that attachment comes with an emotional charge from which we have to free ourselves.

The second step is to distinguish the voice of our egos from the actual situation. When the voice of our egos dominates, what comes with it, is unrealistic expectations, driven by our desire to have or to own something. As Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “Detachment is not that you should own nothing. But that nothing should own you.”

The third step is to embrace life with its uncertainties. We are often motivated to undertake actions that we hope will result in measurable results. When things do not turn out the way we thought they would, we are disappointed and can become depressed and sad at the actual outcome.

The fourth step that Tamara outlines is to use meditation as a vehicle to help our minds release patterns that no longer serve us. A reason why people repeat the same mistakes is that they do things habitually, even if those habits always result in negative results. Meditation helps us to see things more objectively and hence to free ourselves from habits that work against us.

The fifth step and that is really important, is to not beat ourselves up for falling into old habits. Instead, we should celebrate that we are now noticing when we repeat old patterns of thought and habits. In time this will help us to transform our behaviour.

Detachment leads to inner calm and equilibrium, and as the Gita propounds, we should perform actions without being attached to the fruit thereof. Erich Fromm, the great social psychologist and psychoanalyst realised the great price we have to pay to spare ourselves from grief at any cost and that is detachment.

In life we will find that if we identify ourselves too closely with either a career or a role we have played in life, we are no longer detached. Our self-identity therefore, should not be something narrow and inflexible; it should be universal enough to embrace all the changes that different phases of life can bring.

I would like to quote an Australian Aboriginal proverb that says: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

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DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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