A famous Zen monk was at a Bonenkai (lit. forget-the-year party) dinner hosted by a rich nobleman. The who’s who of the city mingling with each other painted an intimidating color to the party for any casual observer. Stunning geishas, premium sake, wafts of fragrances coursing through the hall and a lavish spread of food drove the five senses to sheer indulgence.
“I don’t mean to offend you, master.” An aristocrat approached the Zen monk with deference and said, “But, can I ask you a question?”
The monk raised his hand a little in response, palm facing up.
“They say that you are enlightened,” he whispered, “that, you have this calming aura and glow. But I could say the same about that geisha.” The aristocrat pointed towards an immaculately dressed woman donning a silk kimono with floral patterns.
Every aspect of hers, from her hairdo to her painted toes, seemed like a work of art. “In fact, she’s far more pleasant to look at. She evokes desire and subdues my pride with her mere form.”
“What then,” he continued, “is the difference between you and her?”
“Fair enough,” the monk replied, “I’ll answer your question at the right moment.”
A few cups of tea later, the same geisha came to the Zen master and bowed before him.
“Ah yes, you!” the master exclaimed, “I would like to offer you a gift.”
“Anything from you is a blessing,” the geisha said.
The master picked up a glowing ember with his chopsticks from a small hibachi filled with burning coals.
After a moment’s hesitation, the geisha immediately wrapped her kimono sleeves around her hands, extended them and took the hot coal from the master. She then dashed to the kitchen and dropped it in a pan of water. In the process, her hands remained unhurt though her silk kimono was ruined. She went into the vanity room, changed into a new robe, fixed her makeup and came back to the party hall.
“Thank you for that,” she said to the master. “And, I have a return gift for you.”
The master bobbed his head smilingly. The geisha turned to the hibachi and picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs and extended it towards him.
“Just the thing I was looking for!” the master said and whipping out his kiseru, smoking pipe, he lit it with the coal.
“Bonenkai!” he hollered. “Don’t just forget the year, forget the past. Let bygones be bygones.”
“Master!” The observing aristocrat leaned in and mumbled, “I’ve got my answer.”
Sometimes, life will offer you burning coal when you are least prepared. Worse, when you don’t even deserve it. Don’t burn yourself with that unexpected offering. Instead, use it to strengthen your position, to forge ahead. It is neither a walk in the park nor does it come naturally to us, but it can be learned and mastered. I say it’s hard work because a momentary lapse of mindfulness is enough to make us forget all the wisdom in the world and we end up grabbing the cinder hurting ourselves and everyone at whom we may hurl it.
Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to be mindful or to maintain our calm. In fact, to maintain an exalted state as that is nearly impossible in our chaotic world, a world where ever-changing circumstances spring up new surprises on us like an expert illusionist conjuring up objects out of thin air. And that’s the thing, you see, the wisdom to know that whatever be the cause of your grief, it’s temporary, it’s not going to be there forever. So, take it easy, take a deep breath, it’s not the end of the world.
Just like our desires and emotions are cyclical, so are the good and bad times in our lives. It is just not possible that each day will turn out the way you expect it to, or that every time only pleasing news will knock at your door. At times, situations are undesirable and unpleasant, but we can’t avoid them. We have to deal with them. As they say, someone’s got to make the trains run on time. Granted, it’s not always feasible to deal with unpleasant situations in a pleasant mood, but it is possible to handle them with patience.
yoga-sthah kuru karmani sangam tyaktva dhananjaya,
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva samatvam yoga ucyate. (Bhagavad Gita. 2.48)
"O, the finest archer!" Krishna says to Arjuna, "the yoga of equanimity is to maintain your steadfastness in the face of both success and failure, it is to act with a degree of detachment."
Often, I’m asked, shouldn’t we be passionate about our pursuits? Of course, that’s correct. Detachment is not a sense of resignation but the understanding that to make objective decisions, I must now and again distance myself from my pursuit so I may gain a different and a better frame of reference. You get to see the complete picture then, the three sides of the coin: left, right and standing.
Detachment is not laziness or avoidance. If anything, it is razor-sharp awareness and a heightened state of consciousness. When parents allow a child to go far away to pursue his/her dreams, they need a certain degree of detachment to put the best interests of their child ahead of their own preferences. It just wouldn’t be possible without that dispassion. And the good news is that detachment can be learned, you can turn it into a conscious practice by meditating on the impermanent nature of this world as well as the vastness of this universe. It helps you to put things in perspective.
A woman noticed her overweight husband sucking in his tummy while weighing himself on the bathroom scale.
“Hehe!” she chuckled. “That’s not gonna help.”
“Sure, it does,” he said. “It’s the only way I can see the numbers.”
Draw in when you need to. Others may not understand why but as long as you know it, that’s all that mostly matters.
As Shakespeare said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head.” The gifts of hurt are something like that, they teach us, elevate us, and above all, force us to connect with our highest state of consciousness for answers and solutions. Painful but useful. Inconvenient but inevitable.
In this conditional world, our attachments blind us and crush us, they don’t do us any good. The day you realize and internalize this truth, your life will never be the same again. Don’t take the ember or hurl it. Put it to use. Simply be mindful. It helps.
Be aware that transience and impermanence are the ways of samsara. Let’s be compassionate and graceful while we are still here. It’s worth it.
Art of Meditation
Free yourself from suffering and live life to the fullest. Learn the yogic technique of meditation in 4 days (and master it over a lifetime)
Life is indeed hard, and it all comes down to how we handle these challenging situations in life. Let us look at how detachment could be the answer to managing these challenges with grace. Below are a few blog posts that provide further insight into the practice of detachment and how being detached can help you cope with life’s trying situations.
How to practice spiritual detachment?
A spiritual attitude basically means that we don’t always put ourselves at the center of our decisions and actions. Maybe we don’t always have to look for what’s-in-it-for-me. Why must every generous action of ours be reciprocated? After all, if it’s truly selfless then let it be just that — selfless.
Read more here.
How does detachment strengthen mental health?
Developing a sense of loving-kindness with a degree of detachment. Understanding that a commitment to a virtuous life is more fulfilling than twisting the other person to be the way you want him/her to be. Nothing is more beautiful than freedom. No matter who you are, a man or a woman, a dog, or a bird, we all want security, love, and the rest, but above all, it is the freedom that we seek. When asked about love, I hear it all the time that love is to be able to be yourself, to be able to express freely, and so on.
Read more here.
What are the signs that you have reached spiritual detachment?
You let go off hopping around and learn to be still and situated in the bhava of your lord. You do what you have to do leaving the futility or fruition of your efforts to your deity. You are no longer interested in the honey or temporary pleasure from the fragrance of a flower. Like the spider knits its web with the sole purpose of preying, you do all your work with the only intent of seeing your Ishta.
There are two ways to lead your life or walk the spiritual path.
Learn more here about the way of the spider or the bee.
How does detachment heal emotions?
If there was a term for “spiritual gravity”, I would say it’s selflessness. Just like earth draws objects to it because of its gravitational force, selfless people attract everything in enormous magnitude by virtue of their altruistic demeanor. By selflessness, I’m not suggesting that you ignore your own needs or torture yourself. Selflessness is simply a way of life, a sense of understanding that we can’t be happy unless we pay attention to the happiness of others too. You may have a complete meal on your own, but it’s truly fulfilling when you share it.
Read more here.
How to practice detachment for a happier life?
In time not long gone, monkeys would routinely destroy crops in the fields. The farmers, practicing compassion, wouldn’t just shoot the monkeys and kill them. They would catch them, and once caught, the monkeys were taken to the jungle where they were set free. But catching them wasn’t an easy task by any stretch of imagination.
These primates were agile, notorious, and aggressive. And if you think rocket science is difficult then try catching a monkey (or do its mental equivalent — meditation). The farmers set up traps but realized that often the monkeys would lose their toes, fingers or sometimes a complete limb in those traps. The poor animal would cry out in pain and agony and be handicapped for the rest of its life.
The farmers had to find some way of catching the monkeys without inflicting injury on them. Clearly, it wasn’t possible to drop everything and keep an eye out for the monkeys round the clock.
“There’s a simple way,” a wise farmer said. “I’ve been observing these monkeys and their behavior. We can catch them without hurting them.”
Click here to read the beautiful story with a profound lesson on detachment.
Is there an easy way to detach yourself when you are hurt?
It’s impossible to feel anything, good or bad, without thinking about it first. Feeling hurt is an emotion, it’s a feeling. If you are willing to let go off the analysis of why it happened to you, or why did they do it to you, or how could they do it to you, you can get over the hurt. We can’t get over a thought by thinking about it. We can’t get over the past by analyzing it.
Sometimes, a better person comes along and they heal you. They heal you with their love, they heal you by making you a part of their existence. But, that’s not the whole reason. You feel healed because they draw you into the present moment. Your attention is directed from your past to your present. In other words, goodness grants neither immunity from nor compensation for everything that we may deem as not good.
Read more here to learn the art of directing your attention from hurtful and negative thoughts to happy and positive ones.
What is detachment in a relationship?
For each of us, there comes a time to let go. You will know when that time has come. When you have done all that you can do, it is time to detach. Deal with your feelings. Face your fears about losing control. Gain control of yourself and your responsibilities. Free others to be who they are. In so doing, you will set yourself free.
Personally, this instruction makes great sense to me. By detachment, I don’t mean that you break up with your partner. Though I agree that sometimes there’s no other choice. Presently, however, my focus is building a sense of detachment while you are still in the relationship. If you cling too hard for too long, both will tip over.
Read more here.
How do you practice spiritual detachment from a narcissist?
You asked me how to deal with a narcissistic spouse. The truth is you can’t really deal with them. You can only take measures to protect yourself. If you are surviving in a relationship with a narcissist, chances are you are too empathetic, too caring. You have put up with a lot, you are being soft and you are hoping your partner will change based on your actions. You are trying to adjust around your spouse’s needs hoping he or she won’t blow up or hurt you again with their gestures or words. The truth is, these strategies don’t really work with a narcissist.
If you can’t call it quits on your narcissistic partner, there’s only one other option left: accept whatever you can and learn to protect yourself. If you can’t do that either, you’d better develop infinite compassion, patience, and love. This is the spiritual way. Let your goodness rise above your spouse’s behavior. No matter what the circumstances, you choose a demeanor that befits you.