Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Detachment Is Not Indifference
"Possession," a friend of mine used to say, "is pornographic."
I didn't get it at the time, but am slowly beginning to understand. What he meant, I think, was something like "Desire is an end in itself. You don't have to consummate every little taste of lust." Striving, craving, scrambling for the bigger, better, hotter, at the expense and disregard for what is, leads to emptiness. You can't, as the old saw of twelve-steppers says, get enough of what you don't really want.
With Black Friday closing in and the mad frenzy that is The Holidays hot its heels, I have to think about this. I have to think about how getting things is often a substitute for looking closely at the unhappiness beneath the desire. I ameliorate the longing by consuming things. I medicate with consumption. Shopping and chasing after stuff, in other words, can be like a drug that covers up pain. The causes of the pain won't be addressed by gathering up more stuff. Instead, they will persist, maybe even fester, until I take the time and energy to look at them.
Desire, lust, anger, fear -- all of the churning emotions that follow me around are begging for me to act on them. This looks like quitting my job, punching arrogant assholes in the face, and getting into all kinds of debt, impulse behaviors, and trouble. The trick is that the emotions aren't the problem; it's the fallacy of needing to objectify them somehow, to concretize them, to make the mistake that I am my emotions and thoughts. At least this is what my Buddhist teachers say.
I am trying to detach, to let them be what they are, to feel them, to watch them, but not to be them. I am learning to occupy a space some people call an observing witness. This space is calm, peaceful, and humming with the energy of presence. It's a great place to hang out, good work to have if you can get it.
Now, this does not mean I don't do anything. I have to act, but actions coming from this place are done mindfully, deliberately. They are based on reflection, of considering the options, and finding what seems the best action in everyone's long term best interest. What is in my long term best interest are actions that will benefit my soul, my conscience, my family, my species, my planet. They are the actions that might lead to happiness.
And they are best done with no attachment to an outcome, without a need to possess or control or dominate. I have to detach because I care too much to contaminate the actions with expectations. I do what I do because it is what needs to be done, even if the cause is hopeless. My reward comes from the mindful acts and is a contract with a sense of what is right.
Of course, this world is defined by compromise. There is no easy, clear path of right action, thoughts, or words. I have to do my best to approximate what I know to be right. Because I am not beholden to the codes of the university, my nation, or what works financially, I am usually out of step with my fellow humans. In many ways I am dismissed, invisible -- if not insane -- un-American, or even dangerous in their eyes.
What they can't see is that I am alive, that I begin to see things as they are (to the best of my ability anyway), that I have a taste of freedom from the incessant grabbing. The days of detachment are an ongoing creation of connection, peace, generosity, patience, and contentment with what I have been given.
I am not there often. Old habits and my fear of betrayal of the consumer's code make it hard to leap across to the other side.
Yes, possession can be pornographic, but being happy with what I have, and acting out of mindful deliberation, makes the entire world my lover.