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.

On the Road to Mastery

I haven’t come across too many people who aren’t doing something that interest them but does not come naturally. Frankly, even if the thing does come naturally, there are still new heights to learn and develop. Practice is something that we all engage in no matter what stage we are in our development.

Your practice could be just about anything including going to the gym, practicing yoga, cooking, martial arts, writing, coding, gardening, and so much more. Anything that is of interest to you that you seek to get better at becomes fair game for establishing a practice.

And there you have it…“Establishing a practice”. The very definition of the word “practice” means to rehearse a behavior or activity consistently in order to improve and eventually master. We cultivate the very thing that is important to us so that we can reap the benefits of the practice (e.g. better-tasting food or error-free code).

For many of us, including myself, we have a troubling relationship with practice. Sometimes we are doing great and having a great time. Then there are times where we are avoiding practice by cheating on her with other more important things like [fill in the blank]. Our relationship with practice has various ups and downs. When we are up we are loving life but when we are down, the guilt of avoiding practice eats us up.

How to solve the drop-offs in our practice:

The valley can be a dangerous place for many reasons but the most important among them is it can lead to the abandonment of your practice. Remember, we are engaging in this practice because we find fulfillment in the activity or its outcome. To abandon this would mean we are giving up on our aspirations, hopes, and dreams. And a heart without hope comes a dark and cold place, void of the beauty of life.

So for this reason, we must learn to turn the valley from a negative into a positive by employing the following three-part strategy.


#1 – We must commit to the practice itself.

When tough times arise, usually the first thing to go are the expendables. This usually ends up being your practice.

Your practice is not expendable. 

It is essential to your emotional, physical, and social well-being. So instead of abandoning your practice, you can employ the minimum practice that you need to continue your development and achieve fulfillment.

This means you are still consistent in your practice because you’ve made a commitment to yourself and we honor all commitments we make, especially those we make to and for ourselves.


#2 – We must plan for the valley by establishing a minimum practice.

The absolute truth that we must face is that life is anything but predictable. Things happen all of the time that causes our plans to change. Current world events – COVID-19 – is a prime example of this truth.

Yet, since we know this, we have the ability to plan for when things are not optimal. When they are optimal, we can engage in our practice without issues, for the length or quantity that we need. However, when life shares with us challenges and circumstances that require more of us, then we must have a minimum practice that we can engage in to continue our pursuits.

The benefits of establishing a minimum practice are:

  • We don’t abandon the development and fulfillment that the practice gives us
  • We are able to combat against the limiting beliefs that are revealed in difficult situations
  • We are able to focus on the quality of our practice vs the length of time
  • Our practice meets us where we are physically and emotionally

The intent around a minimum practice is to continue our practices that bring forth attributes of being that out weights the attributes of doing. Which, by the way, actually strengthens the results of our practice. So, even though a minimum practice isn’t the full expression of your practice is focuses on the key component which is the way of being.


#3 – We must establish a way into your practice

Sustaining a practice means that we must learn to face ourselves – good, bad, and ugly…especially the bad and ugly. 

The difficult part of any practice is actually getting started. It’s not the middle and certainly not the end of the practice but determining in your mind and heart to start the practice. And this doesn’t happen only when we are beginning a new practice but every time we are about to engage in our established practice.

Like everything else, we have a choice. We can choose to lean into or away from our practice (remember when I talked about our relationship with practice above?) We can choose to listen to the voice that makes the practice a grandiose task or belittles its importance…or we can listen to the empowering voice that supports our fulfillment.


In order to lean in we must find a way in.
 This could be anything that catapults us into our practice. This may be a somatic gesture like clapping your hands or bouncing up and down. It could be turning on your favorite song that puts you into the mood. It could be the battle cry that you bellow from the depts of your lungs.

Whatever it may be, find and use it as your way into your practice. 

Your practice is an expression of who you are and what brings you fulfillment and joy. Your practice leads to mastery and it is on this road where you find joy, gratitude, self-express, resilience, and faith.

These discoveries should never be compromised when life becomes difficult. On this road and through life’s difficulties is where we learn to face ourselves to become better versions of ourselves.