Detach, detach, detach…
‘Shh! Is the baby crying..?’ said my friend’s sister the evening of Christmas Day as he was playing a difficult piano piece he’s been practicing for the last few months. Indeed, her baby was crying.
‘Ah,’ he smiled quietly, ‘that was the best I’ve played that…’
“Detachment means letting go and nonattachment means simply letting be.”
― Stephen Levine, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last
Detachment – or it’s subtly sweeter sister-epithet ‘non-attachment’ – is both critical and elusive in so many aspects of life and art. Particularly when we begin on a road to a more enlightened mind, focusing on a greater awareness and empathy, it’s our ‘attachedness’ that causes speed humps that slow the process down. It’s slippery to grasp and difficult to notice yet so frequently present. We’re acutely attached to people, things, places, ideas, outcomes – even (and sometimes especially) to other peoples’ opinions and reactions. Detachment is so fundamental to living and creating freely, healthily and humbly, and somehow so easy to overlook.
My friend received a small and humbling gift of detachment on that Christmas Day evening. He’d practiced, imagined playing, attached the effort he’d put in with the reward of sharing it with his family. Playing it, he felt connected and knew he was doing well – the practice had paid off. But in a moment it was all called to a halt as his baby nephew in the upstairs room cried. Undetached, he is happy with his improvement and quietly waits for the baby to be put down to sleep again – he’s peaceful. Detached, he feels cheated and angry that his efforts have been wasted and unappreciated – perhaps he’d even go on to transfer that frustration onto the child and mother somehow.
In this way, detachment is so elemental to our happiness and gratefulness, that it reminds me of the saying – holding on to resentment is like taking a poison and hoping the other person will die from it. Staying attached to outcomes is ridiculous – our reactions to the curves and kinks in the fabric of our experiences is, ultimately, what makes life happy or sad. A lot of those micro-reactions can be curbed by practicing meditation and yoga, but you can also smooth out the creases a little by reducing the number of stressful things you give your time and energy to.
As Sarah Knight explains in her part-parody, part-prophesy The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k (inspired by the concept of ‘joy-sparking’ in Marie Kondo’s similarly-named book), detaching is not not-caring, it’s caring freely and without ego. According to Knight, you can give less energy, time and money (AKA a ‘f**k’) without being the most hated person in the universe – simply by using her ‘NotSorry’ method. She explains:
“My NotSorry method has two steps: deciding the things you don’t give a f**k about and then not giving a f**k about those things. If you perform those steps with a combination of honesty and politeness, you will feel NotSorry because you will have done nothing wrong and you will have nothing to apologise for. That’s the key to not becoming an asshole.”
― Sarah Knight, Quote
Detaching, reducing stressful situations and adjusting our automatic reactions help us create more freely, live more peacefully and be more comfortable and available in the present as a result of not attaching to a future state.