Detachment is a spiritual principle that, in our society, seems to be commonly misunderstood, especially on an emotional level. Our society sees those who can remain emotionally calm and even as virtuous and steady, but many of us who appear this way are actually cut off from our emotions.
For example, people often used to tell me that I had such a calm presence. But a big part of my calm demeanor was actually due to my ability to numb myself to any intense feeling. I am an extremely sensitive person, as many empathic people are, and I believe I developed this numbing mechanism as a way to cope with the intense and sometimes uncomfortable sensations that can often accompany strong emotions.
In our society, detachment is, in practice, often a state of being cut-off from our hearts. We highly regard the mind and intellect, but our emotions are sometimes so unpredictable that it feels safer to simply turn them off. This is how so many people “detach,” and yet this is an unhealthy way of suppressing our emotions. Often these buried emotions become manifest in the body as disease. Cancer, for example, has been linked with repressed anger.
This kind of emotional detachment is not what spiritual disciplines are advocating. Rather, the spiritual practice of detachment requires being fully present and open to our experience of emotion. This allows us to simply observe our emotions as energy moving through our body.
The following tips are what I use to practice staying present whenever I am experiencing an intense emotion.
1. Witness the sensations of the emotion in your body without judgement. Emotions aren’t good or bad, they are simply messengers, and we interpret their message through our bodies. Anger lets us know when we’ve held back our voice, or allowed our boundaries to be trampled on. Sadness lets us know when we are perceiving separation or loss. And fear lets us know when we are perceiving a threat, whether it’s real or imagined. Tuning into these emotions, even though they may feel uncomfortable, is how we learn about ourselves and grow.
2. Let go of the temptation to go into your head and justify or rationalize the emotion. We go into our heads to avoid feeling. Our thinking cuts off sensation of our body, and the stories we tell ourselves only add more fuel to the fire. When we don’t fully experience an emotion as it arises, it gets stuck in our body, and this leads to exaggerated (and embarrassing) reactions later on.
3. Allow yourself to fully feel the physiological sensations of the emotion in your body. Drop into your body and experience what is arising. Give your emotions the space to move through you. Fully experiencing the emotion in your body will help you gain clarity as to how to handle your present situation.
Witnessing our emotions with a sense of curiosity, and letting go of the need to think or act, opens our hearts to the experience of what is present. Being present is both empowering and healing.
By Debby Andersen