The skill of detachment

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After a lifetime of attachments, perhaps you can give yourself some time to fly in emptiness, liberated from fixed thinking.  Photo by @Matthew_T_Rader on Unsplash

There are truths and myths about detachment.  Perhaps the biggest myth is that being detached is a bad thing.  And perhaps the greatest truth is that learning not to become attached is wise.

THE DRAMA OF ATTACHMENT

In psychology, there is a whole area of study devoted to attachment.  Roughly speaking, the word is used to describe how humans’ and other animals’ healthy development depends on healthy attachment to caregivers, and after that others.  This is a use of the word attachment that tries to explain how we become mature, in an accelerated manner, by achieving connection and proximity to useful and wise healthgivers and guides.

The problem is that this ability in animals can be misused.  It is certainly helpful for the biological development of many species and individuals, including humans, for attachment to happen.  But this ability to yearn, grasp and idolise can be used for ill as well as good.  If you have found yourself getting unhealthily ‘attached’ to drugs, sense pleasures or complicated relationships, then you will know what I mean.

Attachment might be best regarded as a drama.  The play you create can be good, bad or indifferent – it depends on the main players.  But the main purpose of any attachment is the learning that results.  If you enjoy good players and good scripts, then you will tend to experience a fulfilling play.  This may involve some choice in adulthood.

THE USEFULNESS OF DETACHMENT

A problem in this psychological elevation of attachment, is that scientists can underestimate the value of detachment, and fail to study it, because it does not fit in easily with a primary model centred on attachment.

Many eastern philosophies have understood the value of detachment, though, and even understood that it can provide a useful counterbalance to the drama, often unhealthy, of attachment to other people, stimulants, and sense pleasures.  If you are always pushing and pulling the world, because you are attached to a certain relationship with it, then you are likely to remain unhappy.

A central tenet of meditation is the achievement of sufficient detachment to perceive that there are an infinite number of perspectives, and that our individual perspective is only one.  Long-term meditation can help us to extract ourselves from a cycle of thinking in which we are always looking to perpetuate our own set of arrangements.  We can become calmer, because we are protected from change and threat.  After all, what can threaten you, if you understand that the ‘self’ you used to defend doesn’t really exist?

In this way, detachment can massively reduce anxiety, by teaching us to move away from the manic protection of our self-interest.  Once we are detached, we can take an interest in others’ lives without the delusions of our own selfishness getting in the way.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, try not to become attached to any one thing, person, thought, food, drink, activity, or viewpoint.  Go with the flow, and understand that whatever surrounds you is just as OK as what your self-cherishing thinks it wants to happen.

Try to enjoy the release and freedom this gives you.  Attachment may have been a springboard, which helped you learn all about growing, and suffering, happiness and unhappiness.  But once you have jumped off that springboard, maybe you can allow yourself some time in the air, enjoying the emptiness of a more fluid perspective, liberated from fixed thinking.

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SUMMARY

Detachment can be a good thing, and a wise thing.  Although attachment, as described by psychologists, can help us to develop in early life, there comes a time when, as adults, we choose the players in our life more freely.

Freeing yourself from your attachments can help you to make wise choices.  It can help you move away from unhealthy relationships, lifestyles and attitudes.  Meditation can help with this, because it helps us to ‘turn the volume down’ on our selfish perspective, and see the world from a universal, more infinite, fluid perspective.  We can become more free and liberated, more flexible thinkers, and more healthy in our living patterns.

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