Note: the blue italics indicates the teacher, in black other participants.

Real and false detachment

I have questions about detachment: if I decide to “not care” about outer events at all, I tend to enter a space of detachment, where perceptions are not judged upon, and I feel “at home” with myself. Although it intuitively feels right, I still hesitate or feel ambivalent: it is as if I shut myself out from the world, a feeling of withdrawal. Am I not supposed to feel I am part of it, engaging and participating in it? Or perhaps this is identity that needs to feel engaged and emotionally involved with outer events as a means of “being someone”? Should I try to remain more in this kind of detachment when it occurs? And what is the feeling of oneself relative to the “world” you perceive? Are you “in it” or “outside of it”? How would you articulate it?

I’ll start with a metaphor: imagine a chocolate addict who wants to stop eating chocolate because it makes him suffer (stomach ache or any other reason). Now, imagine that he forbids himself to leave home to completely avoid chocolate. In a way, he feels relieved because he doesn’t feel the old pain any more. At the same time, he feels a craving for chocolate. We can say that he doesn’t eat chocolate any more, but he’s not free from the desire for chocolate. Moreover, he lost the freedom to go out of his home. What I’m trying to make clear is the difference between not having something, and being free of something. When you write “if I decide to “not care” about outer events at all, I tend to enter a space of detachment, where perceptions are not judged upon, and I feel “at home” with myself”, probably the relief of the emotional attachment comes from avoiding emotions all together. While for me, freedom and detachment is being able to live the emotion fully and let it pass through, without ego contraction, leaving no trace. If I understand you rightly, your behavior of “not caring” can be a tool to explore how it feels to be without emotional engagement, but I don’t think it is the end of the road. I suppose that it is why you feel the ambivalence. You wrote: “And what is your feeling of yourself relative to the “world” you perceive, are you “in it” or “outside of it”? How would you formulate it”? When I’m in my ego, I feel sometimes “in it” and sometimes “outside of it.” But when I feel not separated, I would just say “I’m it”. Hope this helps you clarify your questioning.

When I am detached, I am entirely into the world, it is not a question of deciding to “not care” about outer events. It is rather a question of to move step backwards. Watch the movie going by and me participating in it. “Being in the world without being of the world”, for me that’s exactly the definition of detachment as I feel it.

Real detachment is not about indifference or not caring, it is rather based on submission/surrender to the “essential”. You can call this “essential” by many names, god, love, essence, the absolute etc. When one has surrendered to the “essential” then one is detached from the ego, the self, identity and all of the trappings that come with them. Not caring acts as a barrier to active participation and welcoming of everything (good and bad) that the world offers. In my opinion, this is why you feel ambivalent, shut off and withdrawn. You can be a part of the world actively participating and engaging as long as you have surrendered to the essential and not to the “ego”. When I am actively remembering, being, and living surrender to the “essential” I am living “in the world” without being shut off from it.

I perceive detachment as something which would connect to diffused attention. A way of putting oneself at a distance of events without judgment but by staying in the consciousness of what takes place: I am there and that takes place and I observe that that takes place. Emotions come to life and lives what it has to live. I remember myself a few months ago feeling myself becoming indifferent, cold, frozen and that had frightened me. Now the learning of this distance, this global view make me feel in the world. I feel a closeness and connection with all the parts which form it and sometimes in a fleshly way. For your day to day life, do what you have to do without expectation and without attachment to be in the current of the life up to the end.

I am struggling to wake up from this as well. I experience it as coolness inside that ego likes to name detachment. I find behind this is not an actual avoidance of the world but an avoidance of “my” necessary suffering that cuts me off from the world. When I read your words about ambivalence and withdrawal, I sense there is some non-acceptance of necessary suffering. For me a way to tell if I am “detached” from ego vs “detached” from the world is to check if I am fully accepting all necessary suffering in this moment. If I am not, then somewhere inside there is something that has it backwards and I am actually avoiding the world to avoid necessary suffering instead of “detached” from ego. Another thing I notice when I am being cool is my heart feels closed. Again comes back to necessary suffering. I don’t want to feel the necessary suffering of the moment so I am closed.

The reflection on detachment that you triggered, led me to write the following:
Detachment is to accept/realize “viscerally” (physically) that everything has an end, that nothing remains unchanged, that nothing is permanent. This doesn’t mean extracting oneself from reality, but accepting that any action we take might not produce the expected result. And to welcome then what that gives rise to within us. No expectation of result. Which doesn’t mean no action. To act fully while following one’s internal impulse. Participating in life while being an instrument of life. Detachment is the erasure of I, the forgetting of self in favor of the movement of life. Never mind the traces one leaves, the result, or the absence of a result. Detachment is when everything is present, except me. It is a gratuitous dance, and therefore joyous.

I don’t know if that might help you or even if I am deluding myself. I don’t live this detachment, but nor do I have the impression that I am expressing a purely intellectual observation, but rather a felt intuitive sense that is asking to be lived.

Reading this, which I feel close to, I saw you as the fisherman in the following (summarized) story: A fisherman lived on a small island. A priest heard about him and decided to go help him with his spirituality. He arrived by boat and taught him how to pray and all that. He left on his boat and suddenly saw the fisherman running towards him walking on the water. “I have forgotten the morning prayer!” The man was completely dumbfounded and finally answered “That’s ok, you don’t need to remember it, continue to do as you have always done…”

Basically you explain that you don’t live in detachment but that you talk about how you feel it without living it? I want to understand: can you feel something that you don’t live or did you mean that sometimes you don’t live detachment but when you do it is felt as you describe it? 😉 As for me I recognized many things in your text. I would add that for me the real detachment goes with an emotional and affective letting go, i.e. allowing the emotion to pass through me and not “rebuilding” it once it has passed.

In general, the emotion itself is short lived. Rebuilding later and indulging in it is a way of avoiding necessary suffering. An emotion can last a few moments, for example when I look at my wife I can have a strong emotion, a sudden impulse that crosses through me. Then I move to another context a few moments later, I no longer see it, and it disappears from “me”.

I would add that for me the detachment goes with an emotional and affective letting go, i.e. allowing the emotion to pass through me and not “rebuilding” it once it has passed.

I agree 200%! I was very bad at this game, wanting to “perpetuate” some experiences. Our teacher reminded me: let come what comes without trying to “integrate” the experience into my daily life. It is either spontaneously there or it isn’t, don’t try to “re-build” it, as you say.

How do you know when you are in non-detachment?

Your question caught me off guard! Yes, it is clearer to me when I am detached than the opposite. I would almost say that I notice or realize the non-detachment once I am in a detached space or at least on the way to being more detached. It is difficult for me to answer. I think I recognize the signs that accompany or favor non-detachment: internal dialogue, looping or freewheeling, loss of whole body consciousness and of the space it occupies. Inability to perceive tensions as they arise, contractions, shortness of breath. Frustrating acceleration or shortening of the sense of time. Exclusion of much perceptual data in favor of an intellectual focus. Loss of sensory awareness, feelings and emotions that are constructed or fed by the intellectual faculty. And also the fact that when we are detached internal events move through us, whereas when we are not detached the same events stick to us and torture us. I manage to notice in real-time the existential relaxation that can sometimes occur. Whereas I only notice after the fact the physical and mental tension that non-detachment generates (and feeds).

So from now on, vigilance in order to recognize any physical/mental tension that is crystallizing before it is too late . When you are in detachment, be particularly vigilant in order to stay there. Notice the slightest sign of tension and stop/denounce it immediately.