Learning how to detach

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 14, 2016 – 12:00am

I see myself as a more or less easygoing, happy individual. I can live without spending much. I am not really picky about what I eat even if there are certain foods I won’t touch, mostly for health reasons. I don’t need to dress impeccably. I do not need signature clothes even if I am happy when I am gifted with some. I am what I would describe as a low-maintenance person.

I know many people who are the same. We are generally optimistic and adaptable people who can, most of the time, take disappointments and setbacks.

There are people who tend to be the opposite. Mostly, I find that they are unhappy, lonely and discontented with what they have. They are always looking somewhere else for solitude, peace and satisfaction. They are generally pessimistic, expecting the worst in any situation. And not surprisingly, they experience more disappointments than the optimists.

Whichever type of person we are and whatever our default mood is, we cannot be perpetually happy or sad. Being human, our moods change all the time. We are all capable of running the whole gamut of emotional highs and lows.

One of the things I am continuously learning to do is to step back and watch myself as I go through my experiences. Even when I am going through some intense moments, I am often able to watch myself as a third person and I find that I can detach on some level even as I am emotionally involved.

Maybe it is an adult life skill to be able to cope this way and not get overwhelmed by emotions and feelings. It is sometimes good to distance one’s self from one’s moods. Sure, you can be happy, but don’t cling to the feeling. Just enjoy it as long as it lasts. And when in the midst of overwhelming sadness or anger, it helps to be able to tell yourself that this, too, shall pass. You must be able to let it go after

And so it is with every mood we have. They are too transient to own and keep. They are like storms, or a carnival that visits, but don’t stay long. Thank God.

But being able to detach is not the same as being in denial. Denial is pretending an ugly mood you are feeling does not exist. It does.

I remember a woman I met in Zen training who had been a practitioner for years. She told me a story. One night, she woke up at 2 a.m. Her teenage son had come home late driving the family car, which had smashed headlights and a broken fender. He reeked of alcohol. She got angry and scolded him. Her son retorted by asking, after all her years of Zen practice, why was she so angry and livid? Shouldn’t she be calm, collected and speaking to him softly? Shouldn’t she be more forgiving? She looked him in the eye and told him that this ugly mood was where she was at right then, in the moment, and she was not going to pretend otherwise and deny it.

I laughed because it broke the stereotype of what it means to be on a spiritual path like Zen. The truth is there is nothing special about Zen practice. We don’t walk in the clouds. We are not above others. We are still human, though perhaps a little more conscious about our being human and more accepting of it.

Detachment is also not indifference. You could be involved in a drama, an argument, or whatever the situation is. You can even participate with passion. But you know deep down this is just something you are doing at the moment. Like a movie, it begins and ends sooner or later and has nothing to do with who you really are.

That capacity where you can distance yourself from what you are feeling suggests something intensely profound. For one, it raises the question: Who is the one experiencing and who is detaching? Is there a bigger “you” that no mood, event or experience can affect or alter? Who are you, really, without your moods or feelings? Who are you without your opinions, thoughts, biases? Do you know who you really are?

These questions are something to ponder and can lead to bigger questions. It may take more than a lifetime to find the answers to them.

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