Detachment; Translation, please!

Long ago I learned about AA, NA, Al-Anon & the 12-Step Program.  My younger brother was doing drugs, my mother and I did a family intervention, and soon we all found ourselves thrown in the deep end of an unfamiliar pool called “recovery.”  Scary times for all of us, and stories to last a lifetime.  Most of those stories have been told & shared among the family; some stories have yet to be told I’m sure.  Thankfully my brother survived, is married, and has two beautiful daughters!

I learned a lot from the many Al-Anon meetings I attended (both while trying to understand my part in my brother’s addiction, and later my ex-husband’s alcoholism).  One thing I still struggle with is this term:  Detachment.  What does it really mean?  Every time I think about this word I get a visual of my childhood Barbie and how I could easily detach her limbs.  No blood.  No pain.  And I could just as easily re-attach the limbs if one of my siblings happened to dismember her in an effort to upset me.  I was not usually so easily upset.  I knew how to perform “Barbie Surgery” and save her!  Twelve Step Programs talk about “detachment,” and recently I’ve been thinking about this practice again.  Unfortunately, this kind of detachment can be painful.

I found a very inspiring article called “The Art of Detachment” by Eknath Easwaren where he talks about detachment in a variety of relationships.  His insight into this thing that I have always found to be an annoying paradox, suddenly clicked with me and made sense.  I think my misunderstanding of “detachment” is why I’ve always cringed whenever my mother tells me I have to “detach” from things & people that totally frustrate, anger, and upset me so.  “I’m an emotional artist; I can’t just turn my feelings on & off,” I would say to her.  That’s where I’ve been mistaken all along.  Detachment has less to do with my feelings, and more to do with “withdrawing desire from lesser things, letting them fall away, so as to harness their power to reach the heights of what a human being can attain.”  Easwaren creates a beautiful analogy to the rocket boosters used to launch ships into space.  The space ship uses the energy from the heavy rockets, but then dumps the weight so it can achieve orbit!

One of the things I learned from my week spent in family therapy at the re-hab center my brother finally entered, is that detachment from the disease of addiction was what I needed to do in order to find serenity. Well, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  An excellent prayer for anyone who finds themselves neck-deep in just about anything life throws at us!  Well, I’m up to my eyeballs in life, and yet another period of discernment, and I find myself in need of a little detachment.  Detachment from my job, my possessions, and my self-doubt.  I wonder though, could it be that the act of detaching is also linked to the act of connecting?

My mother often said that change in life is like what the trapeze artist has to do.  He or she has to let go of one bar & be air-born and detached for a brief moment before catching the next bar.  It’s scary, but you can’t get from one side of the Big Top to the other without letting go.  Sooner or later you just have to trust that the other trapeze bar will be there when you let go of the one you’re hanging on to.  HA!  Just when I thought my mother couldn’t possibly teach me anything more, I go and recall this trapeze analogy from my twenties!  Some lessons we keep learning over & over again, I guess.

So here’s what’s been on my mind:

Working for peace and justice has always been a big part of my life, and for the last few years it has become the major driving force of my life.  So, what now?  It’s not in my wiring to learn about social injustices & then just go about my daily life; business as usual.  In his article Easwaren quotes Buckminster Fuller, “We are not nouns,” he says pointedly; “we are verbs.”  Easwaren explains, “Those who keep trying to get closer to others, to understand and appreciate them more all the time, are verbs: active, creative, dynamic, able to change themselves and to make changes in the world they live in.

I need to be more actively, creatively, and dynamically engaged in being (as Gandhi so famously stated) “the change I want to see in the world.”  I’m trying to figure out what form this will take on and in what direction I am being drawn.  As Fr. Richard Rohr explains in so many of his writings and talks, this “second half of life” stuff can be painful.  Not exactly “Barbie surgery.”  Grrrrr!  Fr. Rohr says that people who become transformed and begin the journey of the second half of life tend to lose friends.  Funny, that’s what 12-step programs say, too.  You cannot engage in recovery while still associating with those who are still actively engaged in addictive behavior.  You’ll never leave the launch pad, let alone achieve orbit!

As I work on learning the art of detachment, and withdrawing from lesser things, I will keep my heart open to other possibilities.  There’s another deep and unfamiliar pool up ahead; God, grant me the courage to take the plunge!

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