You and I get to hear the idea of detachment a lot more now, as it becomes mainstream in the spiritual community. But let’s address why it’s so difficult to detach ourselves.
The opposite of detachment is attached – most of us are very attached to our loved ones. But is there something wrong with that? There isn’t – until there is.
Attachment makes us go to strange lengths.
If the other person is mad at us, we become flustered and try to fix this.
If the other person is no longer in our life, we pine and make our life miserable.
We mistake our attachment for love. But the truth is, love and respect are not attachments. Attachment is attachment, in a relationship.
Why we are so attached in the first place
In 2021, when renowned trauma specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate released his documentary called The Wisdom of Trauma, I was deeply inspired by his understanding of the human psyche and biology.
In his words, we are biologically wired for attachment because the human infant or a mammalian infant is so utterly helpless, so vulnerable, and so underdeveloped that they would not survive without an attachment relationship.
So in other words, attachment is a biological need to help us sustain our organism. As Gabor said in one of his courses, a child can literally die if it’s not provided with love and connection!
Then, here’s an important question we might begin to ask ourselves.
Is it even possible to be detached and still love somebody? Yes.
I realized this in the strangest way, through a stranger.
I used to be the person who “loved too much“. But over the years, I noticed myself distancing and no longer seeking love outwards. This was a good thing, but a recent incident made me see another angle to it.
One Sunday morning, at around 5 AM, I heard a girl yelling and crying down the street, “don’t leave me Mike, please! Don’t leave me”.
I was startled awake, and my first response was a grumpy “really?”
As the yelling continued, other thoughts flowed in.
Should I call the cops on her for creating a menace at 5 AM? What if she’s suicidal? And then…I hope the angels are protecting her.
As soon as I wished that for her, an image of the spiritual realm watching over her came in front of me. And for some reason, after crying for another minute or so, the girl left.
Prayer was not my first response, but it did teach me something new.
My “really?” moment might have boosted my ego, to think I’m so detached because I’m unaffected by this situation. But really, it was me closing my heart from a bigger fear that I shared with this stranger.
I didn’t want to be left either. And I couldn’t bear the thought, so I began to judge her for how she was handling this.
While she was down in the streets crying, I was in my ego, telling myself things like “I wouldn’t want that person, why is she crying over someone who left her“.
She was vulnerable, perhaps too attached. But I wasn’t detached, I was simply acting indifferent because I was unconsciously shutting out my own pain.
Thus, detachment isn’t about not feeling pain. It is about being compassionate in the moment of pain, but not identifying with it.
In my eyes, detachment is a boundary we need to set emotionally, one that helps us be around others without losing ourselves.
That night, I finally opened my heart and allowed myself to experience the fear of being left. It was terrifying to feel the feelings. But without resisting, I let the pain pass through by being an observer of my thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they were arising, and not buying into the limiting messaging of the pain. In this way, a stranger taught me to have compassion AND detachment.
I also like to think of Kahlil Gibran’s poem about relationship with children, and how subtly he emphasizes the importance of detachment when he says:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
The essence is that detachment becomes easier when we focus on our soul contract with those around us.
But you may be at the opposite end of the spectrum from where I was in the previous example. You might have a heart so open, you soak up the emotions that arise from attachment and become an emotional sponge! Let’s address that now.
Another Practical Example of Detachment
One day, in conversation with a friend, it felt as if a rush of answers came in the newest way, bringing clarity to the topic like never before for the both of us. I’m sharing the conversation as is, because the dialogue may make this more relatable.
The exchange about detachment went as follows.
But now going back [to favorite place] felt different.
Which made me question my decision to go back in the first place.
Like, should we just leave good memories pristine and untouched?
Because trying to live them again by going back might tarnish it for me, as I saw everything had changed and worsened.
I think we go back because we want to relive the good times and we associate that place with good times. So going is essential if you’re SO attached so that you can release that attachment and keep it only as a memory.
All the while knowing happiness is an inside job. Not place-bound.
For me, [my favorite place] brought that same realization. It was special while I was there, not after I left.
So I guess I relinquished that attachment once I returned from this trip. Which I felt is a bad thing as it’s not as special to me anymore.
Well, essentially, nothing IS special, nor should be. It’s just a means for us to experience ourselves.
Whether through a place or a relationship.
What remains special to you, is attachment.
And thus we need to experience it fully, without clouded vision to be able to detach.
Usually going back to a person, or place, helps see clearly.
Free from that Illusion.
I think I’m so unwilling to detach because having those intense feelings for something makes me feel more human? As if I’ve experienced something worthy? Isn’t that why we all are not willing to detach? We want something to cling to while we’re here.
Detachment doesn’t invalidate your experience though.
We cling if we want to be here.
We let go if we understand we’re not meant to be here forever.
I read yesterday.. someone said..
“There’s a difference between being grateful and glad.”
So I guess the idea is to always remain grateful, even if you can’t always be glad about an experience.
It’s shifting your anchor from down here on Earth, to up there, into the universe.
I understand that. But even people who don’t, why do you think they don’t give up attachments easily? As in, not even intentionally.
For the very reason that their anchor is on Earth.
They are too identified with their human nature to realize there’s nothing to cling on to.
The more you understand, the quicker you start to remember the truth. And start to practice it.
Every time you see a situation that makes you cling, you are able to think from the bigger picture.
So the reason I didn’t want to let go [of favorite place], is that I made it part of my identity?
You are limiting yourself, by saying it was the source of your happiness. Your source is inside you, that place only helped you realize it.
But instead, you started seeing that place as the Source itself, and ached to go back, instead of finding it in yourself again.
Though the conversation was with regard to emotional attachment towards a place, this is true for people too.
Our inability to part ways or mellow down in relationships stems from the fact that we start seeing them as the Source of our happiness.
And if we aren’t able to emotionally detach, things might get serious and as Eric from PeopleLooker shares, we might:
- Compromise our values to maintain the relationship
- Become anxious or depressed
- Withdraw from other relationships in our life
- Increasingly engage in escapist behaviors like drinking, gambling, workaholism, etc.
But speaking spiritually, our true, lasting sense of happiness comes from the Universe. And the more we cling, attach, and lean on this Universe, our true Source, the easier detachment becomes. The following sections explore this idea.
How to shift human attachment to the higher power
What if you could create that bond with the Universe so that you were rooted in a kind of security and safety that nothing else could shake you?
What that would look like is in a moment when you need something, whether it is love, whether it is money, whether it is food – when you need anything and you are connected with the higher power, you’ll say, “I know you will give it to me somehow. It’ll reach me because I trust you. You’re my eternal parent, you’re my divine caretaker”.
Easier said than done, I know! But acknowledging that it’s possible for us, is the first step.
And asking ourselves if that’s important enough to pursue is the next. One thing for sure is that pursuing a divine sense of attachment will help you feel secure in a way that you may never feel with any human being. And that is my intention for you but I play with it, try it out.
Here’s an analogy to help you play with this idea in a more practical way.
To understand our relationship with the Universe I always like to equate it with our relationship with our parents.
A child might say, “Mom, I want this chocolate”. The mother will think about it, whether it’s good for her kid to have or not. And it’s the same with the universe – the subtle and all-pervading energy listens to us when we pray for something to happen. It isn’t deaf. Nor is it “punishing” us by not delivering our desires.
In fact, the Universe knows what we need even before we pray for it. Think about this – most of the good things, big and small, that we have in life aren’t because we have prayed for it. And yet, we have so many blessings to count and be grateful for.
In a practical sense, prayer is similar to how a kid will talk to his or her mother. And while we don’t hear a literal response from the universe right, we do feel its acknowledgment with synchronicities.
And then there might be times when mom might not come back from the superstore with the exact chocolate you’d hoped for. But if you give the new purchase a chance, you might actually end up enjoying it more (based on a true story of what happened to me when I was a kid).
And of course, if the chocolate doesn’t taste good to you, your mom will make adjustments for next time.
In a similar fashion, when you attach yourself to the Universe, you will receive its manifestations for you as potentially better chocolate. It’s your choice to try it with an open mind or to keep resisting and resenting it.
And just in case you truly give it a chance and still don’t like what you receive, know that the Universe is ever course-correcting. But first, open-minded trying is important.
Through this simplified approach, I hope you begin to start seeing the Universe as your eternal caregiver, one that is always listening and working to elevate your life’s experience.
When you attach yourself to the Universe, you are essentially focusing on that which is beyond all space and time – the eternal. While everything else in our human experience is temporary, only that which is beyond the constructs of space and time will remain.
So, you end up with little to no disappointment because you’re not focused on the temporary things to make you happy. Everything then gets put in its right place, and we are able to become a “witness” to life.
So, like the Sufi saying goes, you do stay in this world, but you are no longer “of” this world.
So then, we begin to understand that the truest, deepest fulfillment will not come from chocolate, but by trusting, loving and attaching ourselves to the bringer of the chocolate.
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This was a very insightful article. I read it twice.
Thank you, Zaidah! I appreciate your feedback. Love & Light 💜
Onkar Dwivedi says
It is a good read Vasu…