Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on September 17, 2013

I have been for quite some time on a bit of an Odyssey. I have been "in" the experience and not yet out-of-it enough to verbalize much of anything, so my blogs have been beside the point, and not on it. But there now are some glimmerings floating up and here is one. It may be hard to find the words.

The whole idea of detachment from the world (being detached) has puzzled me, like how to do it, how to actually detach without it being like some form of castration, giving up a part of me, something I am still actually attached to -- you know, throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

In what the Tibetan Buddhists call the Common Preliminaries ("The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind Toward the Dharma"), it is that fourth thought that has been a stumper for me, sometimes translated as "feeling revulsion for samsara," with samsara being this world I am so attached to. I guess I don't often feel revulsion for this life. I like this world.

And yet I am constantly reminded (especially as I am growing older) that I will eventually separate or detach from every last "thing" in this world before I leave it. I am often vividly reminded of the old phrase "You will never get out of this world alive." I get the idea.

And I also know "Less is More," and that at some point "more" means having less, being content. I am on board with that, but how do I do it? How do I practice detachment so that it works painlessly?

I have never been much into going cold-turkey, cutting off something that I am attached to just because I should or because my mind tells me it is not good for me. I sure don't know where what I call "I" ends and my attachments begin. And since attachments are often defined (at least by me) as the glue that holds the Self together, this gets complicated. It does not speak well of the future of the self.

It is not like my attachments are jointed to myself like an elbow (or a crab leg), so that I can just intuitively see where to break it off, or that I only have nerves up to the joint and feel nothing beyond that point. My attachments are sensitive indeed. Like a root canal, the nerve in my attachments appears to be still very much alive.

I can tell the nerve is very much alive by my reactions, my reactivity to almost everything around me, good and bad. And I have to ask myself, what is the difference between awareness and reactions?

The Tibetan Buddhist practice to deal with our attachments and reactions I have detailed here before. It is called Tonglen, which translates to something like "Taking and Sending" or "Sending and Receiving." My own take is that Tonglen on a more subtle plane has to do with our reactions, so I sometimes translate it to myself as "Reacting and Accepting."

It is the process of discovering (becoming aware) of my constant reactions (likes and dislikes) and acknowledging or accepting them that I am referring to here, the neutralization or incorporation of my reactions into what I call myself. The result is that my negative (or positive) reactions are acknowledged as part of myself, as my own projections. I become aware that these are "my" reactions and no one else's, not something outside of me.

If I look, I see that I react to one thing or another all the time, night and day. In fact, it would appear that I am mostly a hotbed of reactivity, often inflamed, but almost always running at a slow boil. Check to see if you are the same.

And it seems that I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get a witness, calling out and then looking or waiting for someone "out there" to take notice and signal back to me. "Hello in there…" Never happens.

Considering that the Greek philosopher Parmenides pointed out thousands of years ago that "Being Alone Is," this must be an exercise in futility. For sure, there is no other "One," but only "the" one, and not two (or the one "and" the two). This must be why most religions and spiritual practices are all about resolving the dichotomy of appearances, me, myself, and the "other." In other words, "Being Alone is" or "Being is Alone." Did I get it wrong?

However, we can be alone together (we already are), but each of us is alone by the fact that when we die (or live, for that matter), no one else goes with us into the bardo at death. And according to the Tibetans, life as we know it here and now is just another bardo! We go into it alone both now and then.

It seems that I never get used to this idea and, instead, vainly wait for someone to be aware of me, to rescue me or bless me, when all that is possible is for me to become aware of myself. That's what Buddha did, and even becoming aware of the nature of the Self is just the first step to ultimately becoming aware of the true nature of the mind. This is why awareness is what the Buddha was all about, becoming aware, just waking up.

So…. detachment for me is not cutting off my nose to spite my face, but gradually neutralizing my polarized reactions, one by one, or perhaps a wave at a time. And what is left after my reactions are neutralized is awareness. Awareness is different than reactions.

And, at least for now, what the texts call "revulsion of samsara/this-world" (at least for me) is this process of taming my own reactions, becoming aware of them, acknowledging and accepting them as my projections, and no longer viewing them as "other."

So what was seen as two (myself and that "other") becomes one, the dichotomy is unified, and like the proverbial pebble dropped in the pond, the ever-increasing circle of ripples includes more and more of that other as myself. I see that it is just me, alone, as I settle my mind.

And the point of all these words is that the above process (Tonglen) is one of gradual detachment, of leaving this world, so to speak, a bit at a time, like turning a glove inside out.

In the end we are naturally detached, quiet, but still there, and aware. The awareness remains when the ripples of reaction play out. This is why the practice of recognizing and incorporating my reactions as just another part of me is so important.

Any comments?