...One may may be passionate and also practice detachment. It is central to the work of the artist, for example, that the self, and the desire for rewards of various kinds, are set aside, at least temporarily, in pursuit of an elusive excellence...John Burnside. Introduction to Iris Murdoch's The Sea The Sea
The number of times I have had people say to me that you have to detach, or separate yourself from feelings, or other things human, over the years has been staggering. What's never been clear to me is why I would want to do that. The claim of spiritual enlightenment sounds spurious to me, and how separating myself from the world and living like a hermit devoted to prayer and inner contemplation could be anything but selfish is beyond me. Yes there have been great mystics and other minds who have retreated to contemplate mysteries, but they have had purpose beyond personal solace: it had just been one stage on their journey towards helping others.
I was listening to an interview with the younger brother of the Dali Lama on the Canadian Broadcasting corporation's(C.B.C)radio show The Roundup last fall where he broached this very subject. He has not been a monk since he was fifteen(he referred to going the monastery at the age of five as being "kidnapped" in a half joking tone) and firmly believes that far too many people retreat to monasteries for the wrong reasons. He said many are too lazy to try and live in the real world and live a spiritual life at the same time. It was his belief that by living outside the walls of the monastery one attains the same levels of enlightenment while simultaneously living out our paths to the fullest.
We are human beings and this world in the state that it is in is our responsibility. We have created the circumstances so we must deal with them. Cutting oneself off will accomplish nothing and is a sign of surrender. The same could be said for detachment from ones feelings; it is a refusal to deal with our personal world's circumstances. If we deny the anger, grief, or joy that is our potential to feel and express we are denying those very elements that makes us humans. We are losing the opportunity to live life to the fullest.
There is a native American expression that has oft been misinterpreted: "It is a good day to die" Usually used in Hollywood movies by stoic nobel savages heading into battle it's implications are far beyond mere warrior bravado. Simply put it mean life each day as if it was your last and that you will have no regrets if you have to leave. Every day should be a "good day to die", fulfilling and complete. How could you accomplish this goal by denying yourself feelings and experiences?
Many people have turned to eastern spiritual practices to fill a void in their caused by their perception that there can be no fulfillment in our consumer driven society. Because they equate materialism with spiritual blankness they have latched onto the word detachment as a means of salvation. If I can only detach myself from all the distractions of this society then I'll be saved. Thus detachment has come to be equated with removal. What they have missed is that true detachment would give them a means to live within any society anywhere.
The quote at the beginning of the article talks about an artist and detachment, that the work itself becomes the be all and end all. There is no room for worry about how it will be received, or any other of the mundane things that distract and upset us. Detachment is the ability to remove expectations of all kinds from your life. When you give your seat up to a pregnant woman on the bus are you expecting something in return? Do you do it for the recognition or do you do it because it feels like a good thing to do? What this does is make the moment of doing the important thing, the sacred thing if you like.
The next time someone tell you to detach yourself from your feelings ask them why? There's nothing wrong with feeling. In fact those people who recommend detachment have completely missed the point because they have not detached themselves from expectations of a result. They are expecting spiritual enlightenment from their behaviour as a reward from cutting themselves off from pleasure and pain. Instead they are just cheating themselves out of living their lives to the fullest. Detachment should help you appreciate moments for being what they are, not remove you from experiencing them.cheers gypsyman