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'Detachment' is often equated with being cold, logical, distant and aloof.
It suggests a solitary condition of separateness.
In Taoism and Zen, the word has a very different connotation: it is about being in the moment and allowing the moment to pass without regret, opinion, judgement, meaning, idea or conclusion.
Being aloof or distant is simply a poise and often reflects indifference, a lack of compassion for other beings.
Detachment means 'not-clinging'.
Emotions are typically about gratification.
The pre-verbal infant (or animal) desires something that will produce contentment/pleasure.
This desire is supplemented with a biochemical release intended to encourage the success of this pursuit.
If you acquire what pleases you, you are happy. If you fail, you are sad.
Think about any emotional state you experience... Most revolve around gratification.
Immersing yourself in the passions of the moment is fine providing we do not walk away pining for what has been.
Detachment is a state of being whereby the situation is treated for what it was; a fleeting event in the overall happening of your life.
If you ate a nice meal, you do not compare it to a previous one or wonder what the next one will be like.
Each moment is unique and individual.
Detachment is the outcome of letting go. Life involves perpetual change.
Seeking to hold it still or shape it to suit your expectations is completely unrealistic and this will cause you pain.
If you are stubborn and seek to hold onto what has passed, you are clinging to a memory.
Memories are not real.
Statues of religious figures such as Buddha usually have a serene smile.
The smile is not condescending or indifferent.
It is the smile of compassion.
Buddha was not cold and unfeeling - he knew that suffering was part of living and even life itself must some day pass.
Putting life in perspective can promote inner peace.
Contemplating life is a good way of finding personal balance and happiness, of realising that everyone has problems and nobody can be happy all the time.
Taoism advocates an almost child-like approach to life.
Children are interested in whatever holds their curiosity.
If that moment passes, they become engaged in something else.
The danger with the notion of 'child-like' is to regard it as being about novelty and distraction.
In Taoism the meaning is quite different.
Child-like is seen as a condition where the mind is not jaded by experience and takes each moment as it comes, unhindered by memory or expectation.
Detachment is not about being unmoved by life...
It is a condition of inner composure where we accept life as it is - sometimes we will be happy, other times sad.
But we do not wallow in our emotions.
Living involves participation; it means getting dirty.
By accepting the ups and downs of life, we can approach them with equanimity.
This is the Way that it is.
You can try and fight it or you can grin philosophically in the knowledge that every moment is fresh, unique and special.
Tomorrow is another day.
The extremes of emotional drama fade because frustration passes with the realisation that this is life.
It is easy to forget how vast the world is, and how inconceivably complex.
Reality does not revolve around any one being.
Seeing that we are all interrelated and special is an important step to becoming detached.
This is not to be confused with 'politics'...
16 August 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023