Friday, 22 February 2013

Detaching

...I'll learn ya!" Brer Rabbit yelled. He took a swing at the cute little Tar Baby and his paw got stuck in the tar.
"Lemme go or I'll hit you again," shouted Brer Rabbit. The Tar Baby, she said nothing.
"Fine! Be that way," said Brer Rabbit, swinging at the Tar Baby with his free paw. Now both his paws were stuck in the tar, and Brer Fox danced with glee behind the bushes.
"I'm gonna kick the stuffin' out of you," Brer Rabbit said and pounced on the Tar Baby with both feet. They sank deep into the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was so furious he head-butted the cute little creature until he was completely covered with tar and unable to move.

We form an attachment when we develop the belief that our happiness depends on a particular person or a particular thing. Once the attachment is formed we are subject to two powerful emotional tangles. On the one hand there is a temporary buzz of pleasure whenever the object of our attachment is attained. On the other there is a sense of  fear that we will lose the object of our attachment. These sensations, in combination with the myriad other attachments to which we are prone dominate and control our lives. When we realise that this attachment is doing us no good at all we quite naturally want to get rid of it and try to push it away, and we learn our first valuable lesson about de-attaching namely, that as it is with tar babies, so it is with attachments. We screw up our reserves of courage, we resolve to deny ourselves, we push and shove. So, along with the pleasure, and the fear there is now a whole set of new emotions concerned with rejecting, disciplining, denying - and of course the inevitable guilt when none of the above seems to quite work. We have, in other words, greatly multiplied the emotional cloud surrounding the object of our attachment and thus increased the degree to which we are glued to it. Rather than the traditional course of discipline, rigour, positive thinking, goal setting, cold showers and all the rest, detachment requires another approach entirely.

In another of his books Anthony De Mello says there are three basic principles of spiritual life: 1) Awareness; 2) Awareness; and 3) Awareness.. Detaching requires the application of all three.

Firstly we need to be aware of ourselves.  We need to be aware that we have developed a preposterous belief, namely that without the object of our desire we cannot be happy. We need to be aware of how this belief has shaped our actions and thinking. We need to be aware of the amount of emotional investment, both positive and negative we have made in this attachment, and the extent to which this attachment has limited and defined us.

Further we need to be aware of the thing or person to which we have become attached. Because habitually we see this thing or person through the lens of our own attachment it will not be easy for us to get a realistic picture of their reality. As we see them as they are the person or thing is seen as incapable of bearing the load of expectation we have of them. As we relinquish our desire for what we imagine she/ he/ it can give us, we are, oddly, free to enjoy them perhaps for the first time ever.

And further still, we need to be aware of the nature of our attachment itself. As we become more realistically aware of the object of our attachment we can sometimes take the step of discerning more accurately what is is that we think we so desperately need. Is it the desired person or the intimacy/ affection/ esteem we imagine we may obtain from them? Is it the alcohol or anaesthesia? Is it money or the security we imagine may accrue to money? Is it the desire to help or a need to be significant?  And understanding the need will help us to the realisation that the need itself is illusory and a product of our own programming.

The attachment can be thought of as a gesture of clinging. To get rid of it requires not that we push and shove and fight, but merely that we open our arms and let it drift away. It is so simple, but so difficult. For me the daily practical practice in the art of release that comes in silent meditation has been crucial but there is no denying the size of the task that lies ahead if we truly wish to take up our cross and follow into resurrection and freedom.

8 comments:

theelvesareheadingwest.com said...

Yes

Wynston said...

Should be compulsory reading for all within the diocese!

Elaine Dent said...

I remember that a strange thing happened to me while leading worship a year ago (I think it was Lent). I suddenly became excruciatingly aware throughout the one whole service (and only that one) how attentive I was to how people were reacting to me, what they might think of what I was saying in the sermon, or of how I was praying, etc., etc. It was absolutely revealing of how attached I was to what people thought. For one service God lifted the veil from my eyes. The revelation about myself was both humiliating and grace-filled. I now own my attachment, although the same agonizing clarity has not ever been revealed in quite so stark a way. (Thank God.) It continues, however, to be one of things I must pray and wrestle with. I notice how it blocks what God calls me to do (as in 'what will people think?'). But I am more aware. God managed that much!

Kelvin Wright said...

One of the things that I am noticing this lent particularly, is the close coinherence of death and life; how the grace of God comes often as pain, that is a death, but one necessary for our growth into life. Thanks for this poignant and helpful comment.

Kelvin Wright said...

...and also, thanks for this particularly helpful and succinct example of what an attachment is.

Elaine Dent said...

And detachment is a death. Letting go is a death, but for the sake of new life, of course. Just as we struggle with attachments individually, so do our congregations. The second December issue of Christian Century had an article entitled "Dark Night of the Church" which talks about the spiritual growth that can be happening during this in between time when our programs and old ways of doing things aren't saving us anymore. The article goes on to say that the kind of pastoral leadership that may be needed during this time is more of a spiritual guide/director. Good spiritual guides are sensitive to listening for and naming attachments.

Kelvin Wright said...

Elaine, this is such a helpful observation. In fact, helpful is hardly the word. Congregations have attachments! It's forehead slapping, why on earth haven't I joined those particular dots before, YES! Of Course! time.

And the concept of spiritual direction for congregations. It's an idea I have heard before, but why haven't I applied it? Especially when it promises to be such a fruitful model?

So....

What to do next.....?

Elaine Dent said...

You and the Spirit will think of something, of course.