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Detachment – The Freedom to Try

As my children were growing up I would sometimes observe that they were afraid to try new things for fear of failing. No matter how much coaxing, they would often stick to their guns, “I don’t want to”. Yet often I could tell that they really did want to try, but that desire was overpowered by their fear of “looking stupid”, or not doing it “right”. And of course, I saw myself as a child reflected back at me. As we all know, this is not a dynamic exclusive to children. We’ve all been there. How many things have we missed out on by letting this fear stand in our way.

So how can we avoid letting this little troll stop us from learning new things and having fun? In a word: detachment. Those of you that know me know that I believe detachment is life’s golden bullet. It can easily be proven that the vast majority (arguably all) of our stress, strife, and unhappiness is directly related to our attachments. The very instant you form an attachment to something – a material object, an idea, a belief, a perception (possible attachments are literally unlimited), you also begin to establish the fear of loss of that attachment. Loss could take the form of sudden removal or disappearance, or change of understanding or perception, or the loss my occur over time as a result of many things.

Attachments are directly related to the ego, in some form or fashion. Sometimes that’s not real obvious. In the circumstances I mentioned above it’s clearly obvious. The issue is self image; clearly ego driven. By the way, it has been proven time and again that our self image never matches the way other people see us. That’s a whole other discussion. The bottom line here is, in the words of Bill Murray, “lighten up Francis!” Stop allowing confused thinking to cause you to take yourself too seriously and rob you of experiences that could be enjoyable and fun, potentially opening up whole new worlds to you.

I remember being at a high school dance once. I cannot dance. So I sort of just hung around. I noticed other people who, in my unskilled opinion, couldn’t dance either. But there they were, having fun, not giving a damn. In retrospect, had I been willing to get over myself and join in the fun I may have had a shot at that girl I had a crush on.

I’m also reminded of an episode of the original Kung Fu series. Master Poe was giving the young Kwai Chang Caine a lesson in the power of the mind. In this case the power of the mind to effect you negatively. No shortage of possibilities there. The student was lead to a shallow pool of acid and told to carefully walk across the narrow beam that had been placed over it. Scared poopless, the young Kwai Chang did as he was told. He was extremely nervous and shaking. After all, we can all agree that you life is a reasonable thing to be attached to. He took a few shaky steps, lost his balance, and fell in the pool. He was shocked when he quickly realized that his body was not being dissolved by the liquid. He asked master Poe why he had lied to him. Poe replied, “now that you know the pool is only water and poses no danger, walk the beam again”. Of course Kwai Chang sailed across it easily. Poe went on to talk about managing fear. Great episode!

So there are two things to practice on a regular basis as we develop our detachment skills:

  1. Bring awareness to/identify the attachment. This is not always easy and so you can gain more clarity by asking yourself what you are afraid of. All fear is related to an attachment.
  2. Ask yourself if the price you are paying for the attachment is worth it. What is your attachment to a thing, an idea, a perception, or a belief, for example, costing you in terms of relationships, stress, worry, time and effort?

The concept of detachment is simple. The practice, not so much. That’s why we call it part of your practice. Keep practicing!

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