“Every discord in life is the result of a mental concept entertained in the mind. Always remain above the situation…” Shared by my friend Art Miccio when I was working in business, it’s a quote that I recall every now and then to make sense of my feelings or difficult situations, or when I’m worried about something.
A great story illustrates the idea of detachment. The tale speaks of two monks walking along the banks of a river. They’ve taken a vow of chastity and had no contact with the opposite sex. While walking, they see a woman trying to cross a river. She can’t make it across, so one of the monks puts her on his shoulders and carries her across the river. He puts her down, crosses back to the other shore where the other monk was waiting. The two monks continue their walk and talk about life in the monastery. The monk who witnessed his friend carrying the woman had been agitated and was trying to make the point that what his friend did was wrong. Finally, the monk who carried the woman turns to his friend and says, “I put her down about a mile back. You’re still carrying her.”
Like the story above, we are all attached to the results of actions or circumstances of others in our lives. Human beings are constantly bombarded by concerns that are beyond them. It’s impossible to overcome certain situations in this world. We can only learn to accept what is out of our control and respond to situations as they are presented to us.
We’re all worried about something. It’s the nature of life. Sometimes those worries can make or break us. Some of our concerns may be trivial and petty while others are life and death concerns. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to learn the lesson of remaining above the situation.
In this world of discord about politics, religion, society and culture, there are many ways to become disconnected. We get emotional and passionate about issues, but there is a time and place for everything. The elderly can teach us a great deal about learning detachment. Faced with life and death, we grow into our acceptance of our perceived fate. We have no choice.
Consider the response from the Brandeis professor of Sociology, Dr. Morrie Schwartz, in Mitch Albom’s book, “Tuesdays with Morrie” and his response to limited time on earth. Albom writes:
“He refused to be depressed. Instead, Morrie had become a lightening rod of ideas. He jotted down his thought on yellow pads, envelopes, folders, scrap paper. He wrote bite-sized philosophies about living with death’s shadow: ‘Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do’; ‘Accept the past as past without denying it or discarding it’; ‘Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others’; Don’t assume it’s too late to get involved’.”
Morrie was clearly in touch with his limitations and the power to overcome them through his mental faculties. He understood the idea of detachment and its implicit in his acceptance of life. He worked through the act of detaching through exercising spiritual principles like forgiveness, acceptance and ownership of feelings. These are key actions in attuning to the issues of the heart.
“Detachment” is a very important spiritual concept and a discipline that needs to be practiced in order for it to become a reality. Some of us master the idea out of necessity while others may never master it.
Like the story above remaining above the situation entails focusing on the intention of being true to goodness while facing a situation that goes against the grain for us. Being positive, acting with clarity and focusing on the needs of the moment and the needs of others can help us rise above adversity.
Detachment through the discipline of prayer and going deeper in exploring how God is at work in our lives can help us take our understanding to another level. Seeking out support from others can make manifest that any adversity being faced is conquered with the support of community.
St. Paul talked about being “in the world but not of the world”. He was talking about being detached from the concerns of the day. Considering the adversity that Paul faced in bringing the word to other Christians, I would say he practiced this discipline very well.
St. Paul endured hardships on his journey to bring Christ to others. He was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten and bruised for his beliefs yet he seemingly never waivered in his mission. How did he do this?
He may have relied on the experience of his conversion, but that’s not enough. I would submit that it was his tenacious spirit in the quest to know God that helped him go deeper. Always a very pious individual, Paul was first and foremost a scholar. His great wisdom was the result of both book smarts and exploring the issues of his heart. The issues of the heart came through his conversion, but the book smarts was uncompromising attention to the study of Scripture.
18 “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Ephesians 1: 18-20
It is this power that fills us with the spirit enough to detach from the trials and tribulations of the day.