The Subtle Power of Detachment

Superhuman means to have skills and abilities that are not common to the majority of the population. Early in our shared history, these were warriors who had an uncanny fighting ability who seemed to win every battle. Today, we find this characteristic in athletics at the top of their sport.

What sets apart the ‘human’ and the ‘superhuman’ isn’t some physical or genetic characteristics and its certainly not some radioactive spider that transforms you into Spider-Man. To be superhuman is a capacity that requires commitment, conviction, dedication, practice, faith, endurance, and resilience. You may notice that these aren’t uncommon traits. They are all capacities, meaning that they are available to anyone who seeks to exercise the development of the needed capacity.

A dear friend of mine shared with me a great reminder that echos the characteristics of being superhuman:

In recent months, we’ve covered a few superhuman capacities like adaptation, transformation, grit, and resilience.  Many of these have the flavor of charging ahead and being on the offensive of change. Today, I want to share with you a defensive characteristic to safeguard your heart and pursuits. 

Detachment

Let’s immediately clear the air. Detachment is not a fancy word for indifference, passivity, or carelessness. In fact, detachment, in its purest sense, supports the connection to positive growth, resilience, integrity, and grace (self and others).


I’ll tell no lie
Detachment is riddled with complexities and paradoxes. For example, the word detach means disconnect yet detachment involves great involvement. The difference is detachment is liberated from the outcome or the paralyzing emotions preventing the pursuit.


Ron W. Rathbun wrote, “True detachment isn’t a separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”

It is hard to recognize the benefits of detachment when our lives are going well and full of inspiration. Yet, life as it is has its ups and downs. When we are faced with loss, grief, and failure, it becomes difficult to not associate these paralyzing emotions with ourselves. Yet through the practice of detachment, we can learn to not identify ourselves by our emotions and move from suffering to peace.


Detachment is the act of maximum pursuit of life (and the pressures that arise) AND maximum grace.  


Roughly 37 million people have filed
 for unemployment in the United States as a result of the COVID-19. This means that there are 37 million people in the United States alone who are suffering from the stress and anxiety of losing their jobs and its financial implications. Yet, there is a hidden emotional and mental tole of job loss. For many, jobs aren’t just a means of making a living, they influence how we see ourselvesWe associate ourselves with roles and the skills those roles require. As a result, we begin to question our identity. “Who am I if I am not [job role]?”

Attachment and self-identity are deeply intertwined. We associate ourselves with the things that we hold dear, like our jobs or the status they give us, and emotions that we do not know how to process through. In the case of our jobs, it is the identity that these jobs give us. Detachment here looks like separating our identity from the job we once had. This means that we move to a perspective that does not rely on our job/career alone to give us a feeling of fulfillment, purpose, and meaning in life.


A powerful element of a detachment practice is learning to be objective. 
We see this with the best actors who become deeply involved in their role yet they recognize the role as a separate identity than the one they hold when they are not in character. They become fully immersed in the emotions and mindset of the character while able to be objective and detached from the role.

Like many other things, there isn’t some single achievement point where you obtain your Detachment Mastery Badge. Instead, detachment is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day, exercise of accepting what is and doing our best to pivot our next steps towards doing what we think is right…while not being attached to the outcome.

Here are 7 ways to develop your practice of detachment:

  1. Become an Observer – What would it look like if someone else was experiencing your situation? The goal here is to get an objective view of the situation. Attachment, even the slightest, comes with an emotional charge. Observe how your emotions are shifting and determine what is causing the shift. That may be the very thing that you are attached to. The next step would be to determine how to grow into detachment.
  2. Storytime vs Reality – We can create and resonate a negative narrative in our minds when things are not going our way. We must recognize the story we are telling ourselves and compare it to facts of the situation at hand. Going back to the job example, we might tell ourselves that if we don’t get this next job it is going to ruin our career. The reality is there is no loss here. This future outcome is not today’s truth. Focus on the present.
  3. Embrace uncertainty – Certainty is a fleeting concept the more time we spend on this earth. Embracing uncertainty allows us to be flexible and put emerging challenges into a perspective that allows us not to get caught up in the fright of not-knowing.
  4. Embrace Impermanence – Attachment causes us to be fearful of change. When we come to grips with the constancy of change, then we are better able to practice detachment. For example, the person you knew when you were a child is a different person as an adult. To hold on to the notion of who they were means you are unwilling to accept the impermanence of life.
  5. Change what you speak – What we speak shapes who we are. A subtle change in speech can help support your detachment practice. Here is what I mean. Change from “I need to” to “I want to” or “I have to” to “I get to”.
  6. Pause. Meditate. Take action. (PMT) – We can easily get caught up in the circumstances of life and make reaction decisions. Instead, we have the opportunity to pause to gather our composure, use a meditative practice to get grounded, and then respond with the next best action.
  7. Embrace the Journey – Change takes time and it takes work. You will likely fall into old habits and that’s ok. You are right in line with the rest of the world. But to become superhuman you must embrace the journey and continue to pursue of improvements.

I offer to you these 7 detachment practices to support your growth of self-grace and maximum pursuit of your goals. When we can come to a more mature place of detachment, we gain freedom. In this freedom, we gain peace and in this peace we are able to live life more fully, embracing all of its ups and downs assured in its rich and rewarding experience.