When I’ve discussed detachment with friends, I often get remarks like these:

“I’m trying to understand this concept…  and I’m concerned that I’d lose my ability to care about things…”

“If … happens, I won’t be able to …”

As a novice with four years of mindfulness practice, I struggle how to explain a seemingly simple idea that often triggers discomfort and may threaten our sense of control. After all, human nature naturally distrusts the unknown. Let’s start with what detachment isn’t:

What detachment isn’t:

You lose your ability to feel emotions.

In Eastern philosophy, detachment teaches us not to take everything personally. As we develop this sense of “taking a step back,” we learn not to react to every negative or uncomfortable situation. We slowly learn how to remove judgments and replace them with observations (“just the facts, please.”).

You no longer have any interest in getting things done.

Actually, the opposite can happen. Once we clear our heads of what I call mental pollution (all the “what if’s,” “should’s,” and “must’s,” – otherwise known as FEAR), we may actually feel freer and incentivized to get our work done. While fear may be a great survival tool, it can also be paralyzing.

Detachment is a time-consuming practice.

Practicing detachment takes time to develop, but it doesn’t need long stretches of time sitting still to be beneficial. Start with five minutes a day. Once you establish this new cognitive habit, you will be able to increase these reflective periods, do them more often, and in a wider variety of situations.

Only monks practice this; it isn’t feasible for “ordinary people.”

Developing detachment is not an exclusively religious practice, nor is it about sitting under a tree “waiting to become enlightened.” This discipline is as diverse as the age, background and purpose of the people who embrace it. Thanks to medical, educational and psychological studies, mindfulness and its components show promising results for people who suffer from chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Corporations, schools and hospitals now refer patients to meditation, MBSR, yoga and other movement disciplines to help their constituents regulate their stress, pain and mood levels.

This is the latest “snake oil” used to rip people off – it can’t be valid.

Numerous studies on mindfulness, meditation and the mindful movement disciplines of yoga and tai chi report that patients experience a number of physical, mental and emotional benefits. I’ve listed some (but not nearly all) resources for your reading pleasure below. Early studies have been so successful that various well-regarded institutions such as Harvard, University of Massachusets-Amherst, UCLA and UC-Berkeley have created centers to further study this burgeoning field. Psst – it’s also called mindfulness.

What detachment is:

It is a mental discipline that teaches you how to regulate your emotions.

You learn to gain control of your thoughts and emotions so you can reduce extreme emotional highs and lows. As a yoga master once told me, we have the choice to “live in a personal hell” or discipline ourselves to live peacefully. Although we will continue to face stressful situations, we DO have a choice in how strongly we react to them, and whether or not we take the thoughts and actions of others personally.

Studies have shown a correlation between the practice of mindfulness and a number of biological benefits.

Adopting mindfulness and its components can help individuals:

  • Improve their immune system
  • Lower or eliminate chronic pain
  • Release physical tension
  • Alleviate fatigue

Detachment is a mindset that benefits the brain.

Studies show that regular and consistent practice leads to physiological changes in the brain and body. Mindfulness participants:

  • Lower their stress levels
  • Improve their working memory
  • Develop cognitive flexibility
  • Improve their mental focus
  • Reduce their ruminations and therefore reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety

This is what experts call neuroplasticity! Start with five minutes a day and increase your time as you master the technique.

Detachment empowers you to proactively take control of every single action, thought and emotion.

This is mind control, but it’s all yours – nobody else’s!

Detachment can be practiced in a variety of ways.

Some people practice detachment using meditation, yoga nidra (guided meditation) or mindfulness techniques like MBSR. Others use movement and breathing exercises, like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong, to focus the mind away from random thoughts and judgments. Depending your ability, patience and comfort level, you can try any combination of these techniques to develop detachment.

Please share!

Have you practiced detachment? What disciplines did you use to develop this skill? What worked for you and what didn’t? We’d love to hear from you!

Additional Reading

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness? American Psychological Association

6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness And Meditation, Forbes Magazine

Now and Zen, Harvard Medical School

UCLA Mindful Awareness Centre