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Saturday, July 16, 2011

The gift of healthy detachment

Healthy detachment is a gift we not only overlook very often, but also grossly underestimate. What I mean with healthy detachment is freedom from (or minimization of) clinging to anything. But that's much easier said than done. Almost everyone clings to one or more things: a job, a position, status, another person, a habit, a place, a mindset, you name it. We popularly refer to the habit of clinging as "addiction," even though we don't like to think of ourselves as addicted to anything.

Not every addiction is obvious. You can see or tell when someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, maybe, but there are so many other addictions that are not immediately visible. Therefore, we overlook them and don't see them as such. Some people are addicted to food, and not necessarily the ones that are overweight! Other people are addicted to sweets or coffee. Some are addicted to public approval. When Marilyn Monroe was married to Joe DiMaggio, the famous football player, he became aware of it. When the crowds call out your name and ask for your autograph everywhere, you may say that it's a nuisance and even believe it. But oftentimes, the real depression kicks in when the crowds stop recognizing you. That's why so many sports (and other) celebrities return to their activity after initial retirement. Mohammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman... the list goes on and on. It's actually rather sad, because many of our attachments are created involuntarily: you work hard on a career, people start praising you, and the clinging starts. Once they stop praising you, you fall into this dark hole that is difficult to get out of. In the vulnerable state you enter, another attachment may arise: drugs, alcohol, eating...

I wonder if the art of living – or at least one of the arts of living – is not to rise above our clinging disposition. In a Vipassana meditation retreat I attended some years ago, this issue was raised repeatedly: human beings are troubled by two major tendencies: attachment and aversion. Either we like something too much, or we hate it. The middle path is the healthiest way, but it is very difficult, because most of us – by character – gravitate toward some things with more passion than others. So passion, for that matter, is also a form of addiction, because when we are passionate about something, we walk, talk, dream, and give a lot of our time and attention to it. It's hard to detach ourselves from our addictions, and it's actually harder to admit them. Some addictions we don't even want to admit to ourselves let alone to others!

So, let's consider a gift that we have, but either don't care to, like to, want to, or can grant ourselves as often as we should: the gift of healthy detachment.

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