As we move into the West, the days get shorter and our bodies and minds may want to slow down. It’s the time of year where we truly dive into the death and dying portion of Nature’s life cycle. It’s not something to run from, but rather embrace and allow nature to move at its own pace. Much like this season, the same approach can be used in understanding and practicing compassionate detachment.
Reframing how we think of detachment
Detachment is a misunderstood word. It often has the connotation of “abandonment”, “disconnection”, or “not caring”. There are definitely ways of detaching that can embody these negative assumptions. However, detachment is actually quite the opposite. We aren’t trying to run away from the situation like the assumed definition leads us to believe. It favors equanimity, which is defined as “a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.” – Wikipedia
Detachment is not about us removing ourselves, but is more focused on non-attachment. It’s also not about painting a silver lining around someone’s black cloud. Instead of saying “it’s going to be okay” or “don’t be sad”, detachment allows us to approach sensitive situations in a stable and composed way that honors the feelings of others in the moment.
Detachment allows us to hold space for others to work through their thoughts and feelings in their own time. Rushing them through their current state does them a huge disservice. We rob them of their healing process, as well as their potential lessons and growth opportunities. By allowing them to move at their own pace, (much like how we embrace the seasons as they come and don’t expect spring when it’s autumn,) we can hold space for others without taking over. We can listen to and affirm their feelings without making them feel like they have to put on a brave face. Remaining detached and withholding our opinions or advice can be difficult, but we all know firsthand how deeply a lesson can land after you’ve truly lived the experience. No matter how well intentioned, absorbing another’s opinion simply doesn’t have the same impact as when we have the epiphanies ourselves.
The late Angeles Arrien, cultural anthropologist, educator, author, lecturer and consultant, defined detachment as “the capacity to care deeply from an objective place.” This is why I call it “Compassionate Detachment”.
Compassionate detachment isn’t only beneficial for those we support. There are several benefits for folks who practice detachment. The act of detachment gives us a sustainable way to be present with our loved ones. If we went around emotionally investing in everyone else’s lives, we would be burnt out before we even left the house. We do not remove the sense of caring deeply when detaching. We are simply ensuring the composure of our minds while prioritizing personal growth in others. We are caring deeply while standing in an objective place.
This practice also helps us keep our energy clear. We know what emotionally, mentally, physically, and energetically belongs to us, and we know what belongs to others. This prevents the impulse to become enmeshed in another’s emotions or trauma.
Best of all, the practice of compassionate detachment helps us cultivate a strong spiritual practice, whether we are connecting with our spirit support, honoring our ancestors, or embracing the death and dormancy of this season. No matter how we work with the seasons, with our Beloveds, or with ourselves, knowing our energetic boundaries is vital. And we can’t know our energetic boundaries if we cannot detach from the energies around us.
This is the best way I have found to carry our Medicine.
Resources for further insight:
The Four Fold Way – Angeles Arrien, PhD.