New Year’s resolution: how about choosing something that will help all your other resolutions running smoothly? Mindfulness!
Mindfulness comes in handy for all occasions and dilemmas- the issue of detachment, for example.
I was talking to a friend about the D word the other day and it got me thinking. Detachment is emotional non-doing on a grand scale. Detachment is challenging, hard and always easier said than done. It’s not easy to disentangle ourselves from the pain of change, of a break-up, of losing a job or someone we love. Attachment pervades every aspect of our life. Is it really possible to detach, just like that? How do we let go when we never even wanted to?
Dangers of Detachment?
Surely detachment runs the risk of overstepping the mark into suppression, numbness, switching off, aloofness or passivity, none of which are desirable options. Even the word detachment sounds like the gaping black hole that is left when we manage to stoically extinguish feelings for what we love. Detachment doesn’t sound like much fun: bring on the sackcloth and ashes.
Mindfulness to the rescue
Mindfulness aids detachment because mindfulness always brings us back to the present, to the here and now, to what we’re feeling and thinking and judging in this moment. Attachment on the other hand is about the past and the future, our regrets and our fears. So the only place we can be so-called detached is in the present moment. Right now, and every time we bring ourselves back to Right now. Out of our heads, and back into Right Now.
Letting go is hard when we expect to reach the outcome without due process. Process is key, and process means working with the very thoughts and feelings with which keep us anchored to the past or future. Mindfulness exposes our rumination: rumination is the thing that keeps us stuck. The problem with rumination is that it is largely unconscious. Mindfulness is the tool that brings our shadowy stuff into the light where it can get an airing and allow us to move on. We get to know what’s actually going on in our heads and how we contribute to that.
Doing so, we start to notice how we unwittingly embellish our thoughts; how we embroider our stories and enhance our fears.
Mindful detachment is the process of bringing awareness to our thoughts and feelings in a gentle, self-compassionate and non-judgmental way. We don’t have to be harsh with ourselves and feel inadequate. We can accept that the brain has evolved in such a way that the human person needs to feel safe and secure; anything that threatens our well-being is interpreted by our nervous system as a major threat. Threats are met with an overreaction of neurochemicals in our bloodstream that cause us to react even further and before we know it we’re trapped in a whirlwind of misery.
Blame evolution: use the wisdom and common sense of mindfulness to counter evolution’s inadequacies. The mindful outlook encourages us to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in a new way. We are not our thoughts; indeed, the mind has the capacity to step back and observe itself. See for yourself: is it not possible for part of your mind to observe what you’re thinking? To be aware that you are aware?
This important faculty of observing mind is the prime tool of mindfulness practice.
The mind that thinks; the mind that observes
Observing mind watches thinking mind. Thinking mind thinks non-stop and drives us crazy; the observing mind is in the background like the sky. When the dark clouds of attachment-pain are gathering it’s a good time to call on the observing mind and take care to watch how our thinking mind is embellishing a situation. The calm observing mind IS the detachment.
The thinking mind, already under siege from whatever event is causing us anxiety, seizes on justifications for our ‘story’, our interpretation of events. It embroiders and embellishes, it amplifies our pain. It gives us a hard time. We will only see the subterfuge if we employ mindfulness (open, curious, non-judgemental observation) and we will only reach peace and freedom through this route. Detachment turns out to be the process of detaching ourselves from blind identification with our own thoughts and our own stories.
Gentleness and empathy
We can have empathy and gentleness towards the whole darn situation. The emotional landscape may even transform before our very eyes. Detachment turns out to be different from what we expected. Instead of being a cold emotional distancing from our beloved object it’s warm, empathic and interested. Our energy is going into developing awareness of how our mind embroiders the situation. And this new awareness brings about peace.
© Shakti Burke 2013