Today I am happy to feature my husband, José, sharing his understanding of detachment. José is a reluctant writer – who has been co-erced by me to get back to writing! He writes at our shared blog From 7Eight on some of his other loves – food, travel and books!
About twenty years ago, I signed up for a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. And in one of my first meetings with my spiritual director, Fr. Peter Ribes, S.J., he spoke of praying for the grace of detachment. Or as he succinctly put it, ‘not having any attachment.’
My initial reaction was to wonder whether I had made a mistake in signing up for this retreat. Because in my mind, not having an attachment, meant giving up or renouncing. Like a Buddhist monk, who has given up his worldly possessions and lives on ‘dana‘ or charity of others.
But Fr. Ribes explained the concept to me in the context of Ignatian Spirituality; surrendering to God and trusting God enough that no matter what happens, “God’s grace will be enough for me.”
But what was clear from his explanation was that ‘having worldly possessions was acceptable; what was not acceptable was the craving or attachment for these possessions.’ Or in the words of Ali bin Abi Thalib
Years later, I got interested in Vipassana meditation. And having joined up for a ten day course at Dhamma Giri at Igatpuri, I realised that the central purpose of the mediation was to overcome suffering by eradicating craving and aversion, i.e. the obverse of craving.
Again detachment or no attachment. Only at Dhamma Giri, the rationale behind detachment is the fact that ‘nothing is permanent’ or annica. As such, any craving or aversion will invite suffering as the object of the craving or aversion is impermanent.
Realising that nothing is permanent, the mediators were taught to observe their breathing and be aware of the sensations on the body, as techniques to eradicate craving and aversion. But the sum and substance was the same grace of detachment that I was first introduced to by Fr. Ribes.
I believe that I have been singularly blessed to have been exposed to both Ignation Spirituality as also Vipassana meditation. Whilst the former taught me that detachment is a grace based on acceptance of God’s Grace, the latter helped me appreciate detachment at the individual level.
At the end of the day, what I have come to realise is that being detached helps one navigate the shoals and uncertainties of daily living. By learning to accept that nothing is permanent and not everything can be controlled, I am accepting the world as it is and not as I wish it to be.
I think that this dialogue from Volume 2 of The Prayer of the Frog by Anthony de Mello, S.J. best illustrates my understanding of the concept of detachment.
Traveller: “What kind of weather are we going to have today?”
Shepherd: “The kind of weather I like.”
“How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?”
“Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learnt always to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.”
I would end this post on a note of caution. I have often seen people become so detached that their behaviour can well be labeled as ‘criminal’ detachment. It manifests itself in various ways. Like someone who let the interior designer run amok in his new apartment, because having given the assignment he chose to remain aloof thinking he was detached. Or becoming fatalistic and accepting injustice in the name of detachment.