The Gift of Joyful Detachment… Insight from Martha

There is an old story about a Zen monk who was waiting to greet the emperor of Japan.  Just before the emperor arrived, he turned to a fellow monk and said, “I’ll be back later.”  “Later” turned about to be 12 years.  When his peers asked where he’d been, why he’d left, he explained, “As I waited for the emperor, I felt my palms begin to sweat.  I knew that I was attached to social roles because my body was tense.  I’ve been meditating to lose that attachment.  I came back as soon as I could.”
 
In our culture, we often think that detaching from something means that we are less devoted to it, that we love it less.  The monk’s story comes from the opposite perspective; when we are attached to people’s roles we cannot see them from a place of simple compassion.  

I had an interesting experience recently when I flew to NY to tape a segment for a national TV show.  In the past, I’ve always been slightly nervous about events like these, but this time, I was strangely detached from the entire process.  I reached my hotel late at night to find that my reservation was in a hotel across town.  To me it felt like a special treat to sit in one hotel lobby enjoying free wireless internet while a car came to ferry me across town.  The limo driver spoke no English and had the wrong address.  To me it was an exciting opportunity to use my Mandarin.  The next morning, I found that most of the production staff had swine flu or a reasonable facsimile thereof.  I lathered up with hand sanitizer, but also felt very relaxed about the possibility that I might become ill.  I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the guest, a woman who was burning herself out to take care of her relatives.  After the show when people asked me how it had gone, I realized I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  History will be the judge but I think it probably went well simply because I was so detached.  
 
I don’t know what gift of grace put me in the detachment zone for this experience.  Maybe it’s a combination of meditating, cleaning out my mind with Byron Katie’s Work, associating with my wonderful coaching colleagues, or a slight stroke, but I do know that this was a detachment filled with joy and effectiveness.  There is a zone in the mind as narrow and wobbly as a tightrope, but once you learn to walk it, life paradoxically becomes steadier, more grounded.  I think that the stability of our lizard brains-which is always a fear-based illusion– makes us reluctant to step on the rope.  But that narrow line where love and detachment combine is a solid foundation for the soul.  
 
Today, try stepping back from a situation where you are deeply attached, where your palms are sweating up a storm.  Think about how trivial this incident is from the broad perspective of your true self.  It really doesn’t matter all that much.  If necessary, retire to a cave.  But please leave us a forwarding address.

Comments

  1. says

    Hello ‘Martha’

    Thank you for the detachment thoughts, it was so timely I was hurrying off to a networking group and that old feeling I must be there so ‘the’ people involved will know I was sincere. TY for this, “Today, try stepping back from a situation where you are deeply attached, where your palms are sweating up a storm. Think about how trivial this incident is from the broad perspective of your true self. It really doesn’t matter all that much. If necessary, retire to a cave.” mm cave so gooood!

  2. Marie Bishop says

    Thank you so much for the timely advice. I will be part of a video shoot tomorrow where some of my work will be featured. I’m not usually in the lime light so nerves do surface and palms do sweat. I’ve been counselling myself to detach from the situation enough to remain calm and collected. Reading your article reinforces the practise.
    Thanks again,
    Ceres,
    Marie

  3. Julie says

    Perfect timing Martha, thank you! I have been stressed about my daughter’s upcoming birthday party. There is a bully in her class that she doesn’t want included, so we have been selective in whom we invite. My lizard has been speaking to me about hurting others’ feelings (parents), what my daughter may encounter at school about not being invited, AND about what sort of message I am sending my daughter by 1. Not inviting and 2. the stress I am exhibiting. Letting go now. Thank you!

  4. says

    Perfect for me this morning as I’m trying to catch a surgeon who is preparing to leave town this afternoon to tell her about allergies I have to products that could be sued in the surgery. She gets back in town next week while I”m out of town and the surgery is the week after. Is my reptile brain screaming? Hell yeah! Detaching? This should be fun.

  5. Joanne says

    Thank you for this – one question- does the same advice apply when your son’s are becoming regular users of drugs-I fear for their life and future-how can I remain detached from this?

    Thank you for your continued support and wisdom

    Joanne

    • says

      Joanne, I know exactly what you are saying…how do you detach from serious problems? I don’t think you can and sometimes this kind of advice is good only for more minor annoyances in life. I love this site and Martha’s wise words, but I also get frustrated at being told to “let go” and things of that sort when I have a crisis in my life. And then when you can’t, you feel even more anxious and afraid and hopeless! I pray things work themselves out for you…sending you a hug.

  6. says

    Beautiful reminder to let go and let Be. Opening to what IS gives space for the wonder and curiosity to unfold and allows life to breathe and reveal the magic that is possible. Thank you, Martha Beck.

    • chris says

      Hey BurnitBetty—”People” will not be smart enough to let you be in the cave….”People” will maybe even want to prevent you from the peace of the cave….but YOU are in charge! Not other people—-

      Go to the Cave, Betty!!!! : )

  7. Heidi says

    Hi Julie,

    I think I can understand what you are going through. My son, who is 7, went through a similar situation. I feel as you do about teaching my son how to include and be thoughtful of other peoples feelings. I also believe we need to teach our children that we teach others how to treat us. I hope you will continue to keep the lines of communication with your daughter and help her verbalize to the bully, if she is confronted with the situation, the reason she was not invited to the birthday party.

    Best wishes~

    Heidi

  8. Blueberry Raker says

    ” If necessary, retire to a cave. But please leave us a forwarding address.”

    Thank you for reminding me of the letter from my friend ‘lo these many years ago, with the return address:
    “Eastern Maine Trackless Waste
    Third Pine Tree on the Left”

  9. Robbie Gammack says

    Wow, I was cleaning out some of my emails and saw that I had not opened this one from you, which is unusual as I always enjoy reading your work. It was a an unopened gift as the message of detachment could not have been more beneficial to me as it was today. I had so many no’s coming my way today and found I was getting very attached to the no’s. As I did my work and read your email I was able to clear my mind and let go of the attachments to have it my way, to know how it should be. Thanks for sharing your experience and your wisdom.

  10. Mellanie says

    Thank you. I needed this message today. Financial troubles and dysfunctional family craziness. I like the tightrope analogy as I am taking circus classes. Breathe. Balance. Let go. <3

  11. kd12 says

    I read this column a year or two ago, and enjoyed it very much (as i do with all things Martha), but I did not notice till re-reading it tonight that Martha mentions doing the Work of Byron Katie. It really struck me because I have begun doing this work, and it has utterly blown me away with the most significant shifts in my thinking. I asked myself why I didn’t remember this reference the 1st time I read this column & then the answer came: Because I wasn’t ready to do The Work then. I am now, and I see it here now. So it goes. It is a world of abundance indeed when we get to read and learn from both Martha and Katie:-)

  12. Kari says

    This is so right on. Thank you Martha for the insight, the love and the humor you so kindly share with us all.

  13. Maria says

    Martha,
    That was a great article. So true. Thank you for your always, so perfectly timed articles. Your wit cracks me up as you share you deep feelings, thoughts and actions. You help me in so many ways.
    Peace,

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