As a social worker and a counselor, the one advice I was repeatedly and freely given was “Be Detached”. Be detached so you can function well even when you witness someone else’s emotions, struggles, fear and pain. Be detached so you remain unaffected by all the emotionally wrenching situations you will see in the course of your work. Be detached so you can carry another’s pain on your shoulder and help them. Be detached.
I had two questions. One, what does detachment really mean? And two, how do I get there? The few answers I got were along the lines of suppressing anything you can feel as a human being. All that I read on detachment made wonderful statements of how being detached means not feeling greed, desire, not expecting appreciation and so on. The answers meant I needed to wear a mask as most humans naturally have a tendency to feel these emotions. The answers usually do not explain “how” you can not feel these. As with most other advise that never made sense to me, I chose to ignore this one too. I chose to find out what happens if you do feel in the most deepest way about another person. I chose to allow myself to experience every emotion to its absolute core. I chose to uncover what it meant to be “attached” as a path to understand what it means to be detached.
This journey is what I wish to share with those of you who might be struggling to understand what detachment means and how in the daily course of your work, personal life and relationships you can stand in the face of fear and misery and yet be fully present and of help to others and yourself.
You are the creator of all your emotions
For years, I have associated everything that I think and feel with external reasons. I feel fear because you frighten me. I feel happy because you bring me joy. I feel guilt because you are better than I deserve. I feel stupid because you are smarter than me. I feel loved because you love me. I feel pain because you hurt me. You are the reason for me to feel everything that I feel.
This is how we build fragile little lives which can shake and fall apart with the slightest breeze from others. Let me tell you a fact. Nobody is responsible for how you feel about things, except for yourself. If stories of rape and abuse affect you, it is not because of the criminal who commits the crime, but because something about the story ignites an emotion in you at a conscious or subconscious, but very personal level. If the sight of a hungry child is something you can’t bear to witness, it is not about the child, but because you have indeed experienced the helplessness that similar situations create and do not wish to be reminded of it. If you look down upon people who travel by bus, it is because someone looked down upon you at some point and you could never shake off that feeling of insult. There are always deeper reasons, not necessarily through similar events, for why we feel what we feel and being unaware of these reasons means that we give away control of our life to external elements. And with all these known and unknown reasons of our own creation which dictate our every action, how can we possibly be strong, let alone help others become strong?
Get attached. Deeply.
I will be fooling myself if I try to get detached without ever experiencing what it is to be attached. I allow myself to feel pain, fear, love, frustration and all emotions completely. Resisting or fighting these will only mask the issue for a while and it will come back like a tornado at an unexpected time. But it is not enough to just “feel” these emotions. It is necessary to push yourself to investigate what the source of these emotions are. What is it that is buried deep in you that causes these emotions to erupt? You need to chase this emotion like a dog chasing its tail until you uncover the answer. I say uncover and not discover because you already have the answer you are seeking; you only need to allow it to emerge. That is the extent to which you need to be attached.
Detachment comes naturally when you get attached fully
It is a paradox. Only once you feel your emotions deeply and completely, and allow it to lead you to the root of its origin, can you begin to experience detachment. I say “begin”, because seeing the source is only the first step. The next and most important step is to confront the cause and deal with it. Deal with it so that it doesn’t come back to haunt you another time. Deal with it so that it doesn’t leave you weak, fearful and incapable of helping others and yourself. Deal with it with all your might and courage, and most importantly, your gentleness. Be compassionate with yourself and with the source of your emotion and allow it to be fully expressed. Only then will it begin to heal. And before you know it, you would have attained true detachment.
I am strong because I allow myself to be weak.
I do not fear because I have the courage to be vulnerable.
I laugh deeply because I allow myself to cry deeply.
I can experience joy because I allow myself to experience pain.
I am detached because I allow myself to be fully attached.