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Learning to be Detached

I was recently having a discussion with a good friend of mine. He mentioned that people who have had trauma and have learned to detach to protect themselves would make great Buddhists. They may have spent their lives not attaching to things because things or events had hurt them in the past. A trauma survivor may have learned to “turn off” from arguing or painful situations.

First, let’s forget Buddhism and just talk about healthy detachment, which is what this person meant. Secondly, let’s explore what detachment is and is not. Healthy detachment actually has a lot of attachment in it, it’s just what we are attached to that counts.

A detached person can shield themselves from pain and other things attachment leads to. So isn’t detachment what some of the great traditions are teaching? Shouldn’t we all not care about good and bad and learn to fully detach from the material world, etc.? In actuality, detaching at a certain point can be very detrimental to us. But true healthy detachment isn’t the same as trauma induced detachment. True detachment is involved and aware. We are always somewhere, attached at some level to something, so we need to learn what attachment and detachment are.

Moments arise, and they just keep arising. We are capable of accepting part of what is going on: a conversation, a bus coming at us, snow falling, whatever. A healthy brain functions in a state of deletion. There are always billions of things occurring while the present moment creates itself. So that healthy brain chooses what to attach, or pay attention, to in any moment. The thing is, we don’t only have all that’s actually going on in an objective sense to choose to attach to or be a part of, we also have our thoughts.

We can leave being associated, or attached to this moment and go to an imaginary future, or a remembered past. A dysfunctional brain tends toward not being able to manage these attachments. Someone who has been severely traumatized may have a hard time choosing the things it attaches its brain to in a way that society would deem appropriate.

That said, many people who have been abused may learn the ability to detach from an abusive parent. They use their mind to manage a situation and separate from pain. But detaching from what is is not a blanket good or evolved thing to do. In fact, as necessary as that might be in situations of overwhelm, I’d suggest that it’s much more healthy to stay attached to what is going on, and continually widen our capability to attach to more and more of what is going on.

So if I’m saying we should attach to what’s going on, why is the talk called Learning to be Detached? Because it’s actually the opposite of what a trauma survivor might learn to do. We want to attach to what is, and detach from our own desires, expectations, and delusions. We want to learn to be more and more OK with what is, with this moment.

A healthy happy person is in the moment, meaning attached to what is, they are not however attached to how it’s supposed to be. This talk is not selling blind acceptance, and we should move toward our goals, but it is important to not be consumed by them. Accomplishing goals relies on attachment and discernment. In contrast, an unhealthy detachment is just disconnected. No attachment to things that can hurt us, but no attachment to things that bring joy either. No connection with isness.

So the difference is in what we are attached to. We should try to be aware and attached to what is. If we’re attached to a certain outcome, we’re beginning to detach from what is. If we’re completely disconnected, and not interacting with anything that is, then we’re deeply unhealthy. But in contrast, if we detach from unhealthy attachments, which are usually our own beliefs and agendas, then we are tending toward being more awake.

Show song: Satisfied Mind by Jeff Buckley

Fearlessly Feeling Fear

A teenage boy just heard that Tommy wants to fight him in the schoolyard. He feels fear, but it’s not OK to feel fear. He’s supposed to be a man. He’s supposed to be tough. Or at least that’s what his belief system is telling him.

A woman in college was raised Christian and believes we should all love one another. But someone named Maggie just was hitting on her boyfriend. Anger starts to rise up in this woman, but it’s not OK to be angry because of her beliefs. So she feels anxious and get a second level of emotion because of the conflict of the first emotion, anger. It wasn’t OK to feel the way she felt.

Let’s take it away from a belief based idea. Let’s just say that we don’t like feeling fear, or sadness, or anger. I get scared and I don’t like the way it feels. It’s not OK to feel the way I feel. Once, for whatever reason, it’s not OK to be who I am or feel how I feel, I am in trouble.

This talk is about that second level of emotions. When we feel something and that feeling is not OK. When we feel fear and we don’t want to feel fear. The added anxiety and discomfort that we add to what we feel. This talk relates to beliefs, emotions, and surrender. All our feelings and emotions are necessary. Emotions are the language to tell us how we are relating to our situation and circumstance all the time. And yet it takes courage to feel what we feel sometimes.

Some teachings say we should try to transcend emotions. Some say we need to endlessly honor emotions. I say doing both is really important. We must investigate the self that’s feeling the feelings. It could need to adjust it’s beliefs and hence, change itself. But we also need to really feel what we are feeling.

The worst thing I see in people, and myself, is when we resist what is. When I am resisting life, I am deeply unhappy. When I accept what is, I can face anything. I can fearlessly feel fear. Whenever I choose to spend my time wanting what is not, rather than appreciating what is, I’m lost. The practice is to become aware that we are fighting this moment, and to drop that critique. We can feel fear, and not want to be anything else. We can be sad, and fully feel it without running away. When we do that we open ourselves to the joy underneath.

Nested Duality

What is nested duality? This talk begins to discuss the play of opposites. I talk about the importance of relating in new ways to good and bad. Ultimately this talk is trying to convey the error of nested duality which is when we make the non-dual experience something good.

As we look at good and bad closely, we see we can relate to the concepts in different ways:

  • Good and bad can feel like absolutes. Things outside us that we have no control over.
  • Good and bad can begin to define one another. Without bad, there is no good.
  • Sometimes perceived bad events end up being good events.
  • Good and bad can be seen as perceptions of is-ness. We realize that we are much more involved in good and bad than we originally thought.

As we take responsibility for ourselves and our perceptions, we learn we are intimately involved in our perceptions of good and bad. They end up being our judgements. As we learn we can “mess” with our perception of good and bad we start to wonder about non-dual experience. A non-dual experience is experience without duality, without good and bad.

When we first learn about non-dual experience we see that we can escape good and bad in a certain sense by staying in a nonjudgemental state of mind. Sitting in stillness can be very pleasurable. Often times people get the idea that non-dual states are better than dual states. This is where duality has come back in, this is nested duality.

Once we’ve made the non-dual state of mind better than the dual state of mind, we’ve been caught in nested duality. If we begin to prefer, or call good, the non-dual state of mind then it is no longer non-dual. This makes it very hard to correctly sell this state of mind, or even point to it, because when we do we are not in it. But when we treat the non-dual experience in this way, it becomes just another opinion, another belief. It becomes something we think about instead of do.

Doing It In The Now

It seems many people want to get the idea of what enlightenment looks like.  We’re all trying to “figure it out.”  I get many emails discussing understanding these ideas.  This podcast is about doing them instead.

The “Now” has become very trendy.  So let’s not get lost in ideas about it.  We even have great philosophical minds telling us we don’t have time to be in the now, which is a bit ridiculous.  What I think they are saying is that we shouldn’t be trendy about the Now.

Because we can play with words and ideas and labels at this level we should see that we will never “figure it out.”  Rather we should look at the desire that we have to figure it out.  The idea of how to do this is less important than doing it.  Our minds want to become experts, and so we look at all the possibilities of “getting lost” so that we can be sure that we will win “when those things show up.”  But that state of mind is already lost.  The waiting, thinking, planning mind is exactly the mind we are trying to put down.

Someone comes across the idea of being at peace.  And they are listening to these podcasts, and trying to meditate.  And they realize they are not at peace.  The mind that is trying to get to peace is lost in time.  The mind that wants to “DO” peace is the mind that puts down expectations.  This may feel very unnatural to us.  We want to figure it out instead.

So when we “DO” peace, when we allow for peace of mind by coming to this moment, whatever it is, we are doing it “all the time”.  Because we start to realize that now is all there is.

The important concept is this: getting to this moment “is the end of it”, EVEN if we leave this moment.  Sounds like a cop out, and is hard to get your mind around, but it’s the truth.

So let’s look at the actuality of living in the Now.  We don’t care if we can do it permanently, because that is another idea.  We just want to do it now.  When we come to the Now in this moment (whenever that is), we realize that this moment is always here.  So that is all we have to do.  The mind will kick up again and say things like “You won’t be able to do that in the future.”  And that may even knock us off a bit, but seeing that once we DO come back, there is no tally of how long we’ve been gone.  So doing it now IS doing it forever.  Because the illusion is the mind that creates a future that doesn’t exist.

So doing it in the now is as simple as coming to what you are, your breath, this moment, the sounds, the fears, the whatever, without worrying if you can do it again later.  If you’re doing it now, you’re doing it forever.

Referenced: Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle