Society admires and expects a certain level of simplicity in life. We heap praise upon people who selflessly share in the true spirit of charity towards all people–especially towards the disadvantaged and poor. Such generous individuals do this out of self-sacrifice, humility, and selflessness without any need of public praise and publicity.
On the other hand, we are encouraged to live extravagant lifestyles and to purchase costly luxuries enabled by mortgages and sacrificing personal integrity. The emphasis being placed on individualism, self-centeredness, and greed.
It is unrealistic for most of us to live the life of an ascetic monk or nun. Likewise, most of us cannot carry on the lifestyle of multiple mansions, yachts, constant world-travel, and parties. We settle somewhere in-between these two extremes. Some of us feel the tug of both types of living. We intellectually understand the positives and negatives of both. Serenity lies somewhere between the two extremes but is not fixed.
To live a consistently effective, content life, we learn to place a certain mental distance between what happens to us and our reactions to life’s events. This is not cold-hearted indifference nor apathy. This state of mind is detachment. We can think of this balance as being intensely present in the moment–mindfulness–plus not becoming attached to any particular opinion or favor towards our experiences. We are able to enrich our lives by being aware of the preciousness of each moment and being able to detach from it.
“All tastes have the quality of being in some way artificial and invented. The secret of life is to have enough detachment from your tastes and your values to see that they are a little bit absurd.”–American essayist and writer, Adam Gopnik
When some people are given precious jewels, they resent not being gifted gold bars. When they are elevated to vice-president of the company, they are bitter about not being promoted to CEO. Although they have become rich and powerful, they retain the mindset of a beggar. They have become attached to the idea of wealth and social position.
Meanwhile, other people have discovered the beauty of contentment. Their consumption of material goods is tempered with the wisdom of saving and sound investment. They may even enjoy owning precious things but not at the sacrifice of being obsessed about them. Being detached from excess, such people need not defer to the CEO nor the social influencer.
In abstract terms, the Daoist teacher Huanchu Daoren wrote: “A lone cloud emerges from a mountain cave with nothing to keep it from going or staying. A bright mirror hangs in the sky, unaffected by either quiet or uproar.”
I keep this quote on a Post-It-Note at eye-level on my refrigerator. It is a daily reminder not to become too emotionally reactive about current affairs and political machinations. This is not to say that I’m apathetic about goings on in the world. The quote is a simple reminder to avoid becoming too attached to outcomes and opinions. In a way, it reminds me to be careful of setting high expectations of the world.
Basically, there is a sweet spot between involvement in the world and detachment from view. There seems to be an ideal relationship between action and conceptualizing. It is the balance between identity and empathy. One is aware, yet is not attached to grasping onto interpretations. One is thankful for what one has, yet realizes one must ultimately let go of it all.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes English author and journalist, Edward St Aubyn. “Detachment is what interests me, seeing how people couldn’t have been any other way, how they were the product of forces that they had no control over.”
Interesting, as always!
No mansion expansion but caught in semi-detached thought.
There’s no place like home.
Speaking of expectations, I have just come to the understanding that there isn’t an age at which human beings grow up and act like reasoning adults on a dependable basis. It took me longer than most to understand this ~ I’m 63 ~ and now that I do understand it I also understand why I spend almost all of my time alone.
I learned this at my first regular job. Many of my much older colleagues seemed clueless and immature.
Right up to their dying days, right?