Journey to Detachment

Detachment is a state of consciousness.  We cultivate detachment when release our attachment to someone or something that is preventing us from growing and moving forward in our lives.  Detachment helps to free us from unhealthy relationships, delusional beliefs and dysfunctional behavior patterns.  While emotional attachment is part of the process of learning and growing, there comes a time when we must let go to free up our energy to create something new and better in our life.

Opposite States of Consciousness:  Attachment, Dependence or Co-dependence, Fixation, Identification, Merging, Submission, Obsession with people or ideas, Giving up our power to others.

The Teaching

Both attachment and detachment are necessary aspects of life.  As a baby we are attached to our mother.  We depend on her for nurturing, love and protection.   But when we get older, we learn to do things for ourselves.  Our father encourages us to move out into life and take greater responsibility for ourselves.  Gradually, we detach from both our mother and father and claim our independence.   This is a natural phenomenon.  
     Without detachment growth and individuation cannot take place.   But detachment from parental support and authority can lead to the forming of new attachments.  Perhaps we attach to a girlfriend or boyfriend, a teacher, a coach or a mentor.   Our attachment enables us to receive additional support and nurturing.  That is a good thing.
     But there will come a time when we have to detach from that person to continue to grow.  Our mentor may help us learn a skill, but once the skill is learned, we may be ready to move on to other challenges. Our apprenticeship must end for us to learn to stand on our own and become a master in our own right.
     We might fall in love with someone and learn to open our heart. That is a wonderful thing, but sometimes what we can learn from each other reaches its limits, and we feel ready to move on.   We realize that we will both learn more with others than we will learn by staying together.  Of course, this recognition takes many forms.  In other cases, there are deeper ties that bind us, but we need to take some time apart to grow before we can come back together.
     Embracing and letting go are two sides of the same coin. If we get stuck in the embracing stage and do not let go, we will not grow and individuate.  On the other hand, if we get stuck in the letting go stage, we will not experience the nurturing and support that we need. After a time alone and apart, it will be time to embrace again.  This is a cyclical process.
     Some people have difficulty with one extreme or the other.   Those who are wounded and afraid of intimacy are not good at the embracing stage.  If they embrace at all it is only briefly and then they are off to the races.  They may leave a trail of tears behind them.  Others have difficulty with the detachment stage.   They embrace easily, but then they try to hold on, even when it is clear that the time to part has come.  They are often hurt and feel betrayed. 
     Clearly either extreme is not healthy, and most people are not extreme in their behavior.  However, their lessons may lie in one stage more than the other.   If you are someone who attaches and holds on, you have to learn detachment skills.  If you are someone who has trouble connecting and committing, your lessons may lie in the attachment stage. You probably know which one applies to you.  And you may choose a partner who exhibits the other tendency so that you can learn from him or her. 
     In a marriage, partners ideally help each other learn to embrace and detach as the relationship requires.   Sometimes, they may need help from an outside therapist or counselor to learn the skills necessary so that the relationship can grow and thrive.
     The prescription that alternately binds and liberates is a simple one: “Hold on tightly; let go lightly.”  That is what the dance of intimacy requires.
     in the cycle of life, we move through various stages.   In the childhood stage we are attached and dependent on others to survive.   In the adult stage, we become independent and self-supporting.   And then, if we decide to have children, we become caretakers and our children become dependent on us.  Finally, as we move into the final stage of life, we begin to detach.  We detach from work, downsize our home and simplify our lives.  We prepare ourselves for the ultimate time of detachment when we will let go of the body and the world.  
     That is what Jesus referred to in Matthew 6:19-21, where he tells us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 
     In the end we let go of all that binds us to the world.  We rest in our hearts and stay connected to love.   That makes our transition out of this world easier and more graceful. 
     Birth and death, attachment and detachment are the alpha and omega poles  of life.  But even within each life, there are many smaller cycles.  We breathe in and we breathe out, the sun rises and sets, the seasons come and go.  We embrace each other and let go.  

The Practice

Today, practice recognizing any unhealthy attachments you have.  These attachments may be to people, substances (addictions) or ideas.  See how these dependencies hold you back from moving forward in your life.  And be prepared to start letting them go. 
     The first step is usually to understand what pay-offs come from each attachment.  For example, you may be attached to your job even though you don’t like it because it pays the bills. You may be attached to your relationship even though there is no intimacy there, because you don’t want to be lonely or you don’t want to have to go to work to support yourself.  You might be attached to drinking or smoking because it helps you deal with anxiety, even though you know it is taking a toll on your health  Or you might be attached to staying in a cult because it offers you “a family” to belong to, even though you have to give up your freedom to make your own choices.
     If there was no pay-off, you probably would not have difficulty letting go.   So you have to look carefully at the pay off and the cost of the attachment. What is the cost of staying in a job you don’t like or a marriage that offers no love or intimacy?  What is the cost of an addiction that is undermining your heath?  What is the cost of ignoring your own guidance and giving your power away to others?
     When you understand the cost is greater than the pay-off, you realize that you must take steps to free yourself from the attachment.  Sometimes you can do this by standing up for yourself, speaking to your boss or your wife, going cold turkey off the booze or the tobacco, or leaving the cult. Other times it becomes clear to you that you need help from others to overcome the attachment and you take the first step by asking for the help you need.
     If you are in an abusive relationship and you can’t leave because you will be followed and hunted down, you might need to go to a shelter where they will place you in a safe house.  If you are a heroin addict, you might need to go to a treatment center where you can be put on methadone.
     Today see the cost of your attachment and take the first step toward freedom from the entanglement.  Today, pick up the phone and call for help if you need it.  Today, communicate your desire for change to the people who need to hear it.
     Don’t remain in your victimhood because you think you have no choice.  You believe that only because you have given your power away.  Take your power back and take charge of your life one step at a time.
      You are free to choose, but you must exercise your freedom to keep it. Don’t stay in jail because you get a place to sleep and 3 meals a day.   You would be better off eating dog food and sleeping under a bridge.   At least you would be  free to move around and find a way to a better life. 
     Those who give away their freedom easily slip into victim consciousness and get trapped in a prison of their own making.  The longer they stay, the more docile and powerless they become.  Darkness and depression set in and the light continues to recede from them.
      Today check the door to your prison cell.  It is not locked, even though you might have believed that it was.  When you decide to leave, the door will open.
     Today, detach from all that is not helpful or empowering for you and open the door to a better life. You are a creator, not a victim.   The proof of that lies in the fact that you alone created the prison and you alone can escape from it.        

Journaling Question

With whom and in what situations am I challenged to detach so that I can release myself from limitations that threaten my safety, restrict my freedom, or prevent me from growing as a person?

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