I might have mentioned this before, but if I had to choose a spiritual practice that I’d practice for the rest of my life, I’d choose Buddhism. I don’t think I’d go so far as to shave my head and join a monastery (like Andy Puddicombe of Headspace), but I find that some of Buddhism’s teachings resonate with me so much that I want to incorporate them more in my daily life. One aspect in particular that’s come up again and again for me is the idea of detachment — freeing oneself from desires and lust for things, people, objects, and concepts.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I can give up everything. I love me some honey barbecue Fritos, and I love my material comforts.
What I’m mainly going to be talking about in this post today is how I’m applying detachment to my life and how you can, too.
Detachment of the Mind
Since I started my meditation practice, I’ve been able to detach from things that stress me out much easier than before. Instead of believing that my thoughts are a reflection of who I am and who I will become, I now know that they are nothing more than just thoughts. Some thoughts that come are helpful; some thoughts that come aren’t helpful; some thoughts are just plain silly.
And I don’t have to listen to any of them.
Like clouds in the sky, these thoughts will come and go, as well as my feelings. When I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I literally visualize myself stepping outside of my body like a ghost so that I can view the situation from an observer’s perspective instead of being right in the thick of it. And when I see that person who’s overwhelmed or struggling, I give her a hug, tell her it’s going to be okay, and that she doesn’t have to stay in the middle of that storm forever. All she has to do is take my hand and step outside of it.
Now, don’t misconstrue me here. I’m not saying that detachment invalidates anyone’s feelings. Detachment doesn’t mean ignoring that the storm exists and is causing you problems. If you feel sad, hurt, angry, overwhelmed, or stress over something that’s happened in your life, that’s perfectly normal. If you’re feeling sad over a pet dying, I’m going to let you be sad. If you feel sad about killing off one of your characters, I’m going to let you be sad. I’m not going to tell you to snap out of it or move on.
You will move on when you are ready.
Yet if you become so overwhelmed that you can’t function or can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for days, weeks, months, or years on end — when you identify with the emotion you’re feeling so closely that it starts to define you, I guarantee that you’ll start running into problems.
Detachment of the Heart
People say “I am angry” or “I am sad” all the time to express how they are feeling, but that kind of language can be harmful when you are trying to move on. When you say that you are “x” emotion, you’re saying that you are the emotion. And when that happens, you’re not yourself anymore. Instead, you’re letting the emotion define you, control you, and dictate your actions.
But when you step back and say “I feel angry,” “I feel anxious,” “I feel sad,” you’re calling out the emotion for what it is: a feeling in your body. Nothing more. Nothing less. Emotions are not good or bad. They just are.
And the moment you let go of their hold on you, the moment you will truly be free.
Detachment of the Self
Emotions are powerful. They make us do incredibly awesome and incredibly stupid things. The sensations they impart in our bodies can invigorate us and deflate us in a heartbeat. The elation when you get your paycheck each week might drive you to make an impulse purchase at Nordstrom’s, but it would only provide you with momentary pleasure. The adrenaline pumping through a bank robber’s veins might make them feel righteous as they keep keep stuffing cash in their sack, but that doesn’t mean they are righteous.
When we take a step back and detach ourselves from the idea that our thoughts dictate us, our emotions dictate us, or our non-existent critics dictate us, we can finally get back to the real business at hand.
I know it’s easier said than done to not be controlled by emotions. I’m quite sensitive to the emotions of others and easily get swept up in my own. But with practice, it is entirely possible.
So if you feel up to the task, dear readers, start practicing. Take note of how many times you say to yourself “I am angry,” or “I am sad,” throughout the day and start to replace it with “I feel anger,” “I feel sadness,” etc. Even better, try greeting the emotion as if you would an old friend rather than an old enemy: “Oh, Anxiety. Hi, there. I feel you. Don’t worry. I just need to get this paper done, and we can relax, okay?”
It’s weird. I know. But it helps.
And I hope it helps you, too.
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And as always, I’ll see you in the next post.