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Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 8:41 AM
Author: GreisGreis
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Ok so I know most of the threads here are not quite like this, but I have been having some issues that you guys might have some insight on.

So I've been doing alot of reading in buddhist psychology and philosophy, but not much practice. I try to meditate daily, but I get lazy with it sometimes. A big problem with me is that I fear that I might go crazy or become so detached I no longer care about things (friends, family, etc.) if I continue down this path of letting things happen. The other day I was worrying about stuff, and I got upset, just feeling sort of helpless.

I just felt so fake and unreal, and the felling that I couldn't do anything about it. At a certain moment, I felt like I either had to be me, the thoughts inside my had, or everything else around me, the flow, whatever you want to call it. I sortof tried to give in to the flow, which gave me some relief. But that made me feel even more fake, everything I said or did, I really didn't think about it. I felt like I was stuck in some terrible limbo.

I don't want to get to the point where life is meaningless or anything like that. Help would be greatly appreciated.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 10:04 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: KunstderFuge

Hello --

Just some thoughts from a beginner. First: I found myself in a tough place before I started practice, and the practice has really helped -- there's just no question. But that's me; your mileage may vary. I know that a lot of people either don't really feel they got anything as straightforward as mental stability out of their practice or are in it for something else, and I know that a lot of traditions (including Zen, which is what I practice) really don't like the notion of using meditation to get things. ("Gaining is losing.") But I think you have to have *some* reason to begin this demanding discipline, and really feeling your suffering, and wanting it to end, is as good as any. Perhaps the problem comes if you think of practice as part of some "search for happiness." The search for happiness is itself the thing that makes you hurt. It's like trying to put out a fire by pouring gas on it.

Second: I don't find I care less about family and friends since beginning practice; I care about them more. Suffering flows from wanting things to be different from what they are. I didn't care as much about my friends and family when I was really suffering because I didn't really see them at all. It's all about me when I'm in that dark state. Lose the self, gain the world.

Third, just reading isn't going to get you past a certain point. As it's often been said, you can't get enlightened by thinking about it. What you describe sounds like the merry-go-round of involutional thoughts, where you are caged by thought, pacing around inside your head like an zoo animal pacing its cage, unable to do the simplest damn thing without immediately framing it mentally as me-doing-this-bullshit-thing. This is a quick road to hell.

Deep bows, Phil

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 10:50 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Hi GreisGreis,

I think this is one of the first intellectual hurdles people come to before really getting in to meditation practice. Where I feel that you have a valid concern (becoming detached to the point of indifference), I think it comes from a pretty basic misunderstanding of what "attachment" means in the context of insight practice.

It is normal, and healthy, to be be attached to one's family. If a mother were not attached in some way to her baby, the baby will suffer. So then, attachment and desire are only bad when they spur on the ignorance/delusion that you are a separate "I" - inherently existing, not dependent upon conditions.

It's hard to explain sometimes, so it's best to discover it through practice. I know from experience that insight practice has never made me apathetic or indifferent toward my family, friends, personal goals, etc. When the separate self dissolves, you will find that you are more connected to the rest of the Universe than you thought -- which is quite different from being "detached".

It's up to you whether or not you'll embark on this journey. It's a meaningful quest, and I think it would be a shame if it was sabotaged from the get-go by a simple misunderstanding.

~Jackson

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 11:13 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Hi GreisGreis

I've been where it sounds like you are. As well as you fearing those things coming to pass, the people around you may feel pretty much the same fears, and accuse you of having become those things / try to convince you to come back and rejoin humanity. Dealing with the loved ones in our lives as we practice deserves its own thread so I'll leave that for now.

You say you haven't practiced much but have you reflected much on what you've been reading as you've read it or later on? Looked to see whether it is true while you've been going through your daily life? IMHO that is a form of practice, although I'm not sure whether it gets much street cred around here.

Here is my take on the cause of those fears: (YMMV)

If you've been challenging or letting go some cherished beliefs which give rise to feelings of safety and "the known", it often reveals an emptiness which can be terrifying to the ego at first.

The very thing you stand to lose, call it ego or social identity or small self or whatever, is the same thing causing you to experience those fears when it comes face to face with emptiness. So a really natural part of the process is for those fears to fall away over time if you keep practicing.

You may feel an inclination to fill that emptiness with a new set of buddhist beliefs. Can I suggest you resist that urge, just let the emptiness be, and instead of seeking security through beliefs, embrace confidence through direct experience.

Becoming a chronic dark night yogi is probably as close as you can get to your fears being realised, and its here the advice "Better never to begin. Once begun, better to finish" applies.

I say keep practicing (in whatever form). Ultimately there's nothing to be afraid of... "but fear itself". That and scary dudes on Hindley Street.

Craig

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 3:04 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: accept_dance

Detachment from looking at life events/things as whats in it for me actually opens you up to a selfless or unconditional relationship with life coming from that which is your kind and loving authentic nature

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 5:28 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Hey GreisGreis,

Pretty much in line with what everyone's been saying so far, this is from my journal a couple of months ago. I may have overstated it a bit, but the basic gist is there.

At one end of the continuum is compulsion and compulsiveness. At the other end is equanimity.

Attachment does not mean caring about something. It means being bound to or by something.

Caring about your bed means that you’ll clean it up, you’ll make it in the morning, you’ll get the mattresses checked regularly and so on. Being attached to your bed means that you’ll walk through the streets with a rope around your waist dragging your bed behind you wherever you go. Or you won’t leave the house in order that you might stay with it all day.

Attachment is like emotional handcuffing. It has nothing to do with caring about or loving something. It has everything to do with depending on that thing for one’s self-concept.

------------------------------------------------

Another way of looking at the practice that might be useful is that you are learning how to be more honest with yourself. (Kind of in line with what KunstderFuge was saying above about actually getting to see people and circumstances in your life now that you're not so invested in who you expect/think/fear/wish that they are.)

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/1/09 7:03 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: GreisGreis

I really appreciate all the comments, they have helped me a great deal. I am going to try to much more practical in my thoughts and actions, instead of this all-or-nothing thing I have been running with lately.

Any suggestions on what practice would be good? Quite frankly, I would just like to understand my thoughts and emotions better, and life a good, happy life. Honestly, I don't really want heightened consciousness or enlightenment.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/2/09 12:11 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: KunstderFuge

Dear GreisGreis,

"Cognitive restructuring" or "cognitive behavior therapy" (CBT) are psychotherapeutic practices that have been developed as ways of dealing with anxiety and compulsive thoughts. One version of CBT called "mindfulness-based cognitive therapy" borrows some of its basic features from Buddhist psychology. My wife uses one kind of CBT (with exactly the same goal you describe) and it works for her; as with anything else, you need to find a good instructor to get the benefits. I've also seen friends do yoga and drastically improve the quality of their life.

Also (I'm a Dad, so I'll bust with the non-meditation advice here), whatever you do to manage your stress should take its rightful place alongside all the other aspects of healthy self-maintenance: drink enough water every day (hey, it helps!), watch what you eat, get enough sleep, and get regular exercise, even if it's just walking around. When your stress management goes out of whack, the rest tend to follow.

You might look at Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (which everyone here has read) and look at chapters 2 and 18 -- chapter 2 is on the training in morality, which is really what you're talking about here, and chapter 18 is on "right thinking," which is especially helpful and down-to-earth and warns against unrealistic expectations of self-perfection.

Hope this helps -- Phil

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/2/09 4:31 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: msj123

I like to think of it as non-attachment instead of detachment. Detachment tends to connote standing apart, apathetically, unconcerned, life denying. Non-attachment is open, accepting of whatever arises. In this way, non-attachment is life affirming. Clinging, craving, and grasping tend to focus only on part of life--- the part that we want. Non-attachment affirms the whole of life--- the good and the bad, the pleasurable and the painful.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/2/09 6:05 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
In keeping with what you've had to say so far, I suggest, 'taking it easy'. What I mean by that is, keep it simple and frequently remind yourself to (1.) 'relax' and (2.) 'simply discover' what you are. You may find this reveals quite a lot. There is another simple two step that can throw a lot of additional light on 'you'. When you have the feeling of aversion to your experience, gently embrace it and when you are attracted to your experience gently let go of it. That sort of a simple shuffle will take you to some very interesting new places. So, that's all, that's it, enjoy your life (regardless of what shape it takes), if you don't who will?

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/2/09 7:42 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: GreisGreis

One more thing I wanted to ask is if anyone has experienced the sense of "blankness" in terms of waking up, and not having all the thoughts of what happened yesterday and what will happen today rush in. Just a sense of blankness and me knowing that I should just try to live normally, and don't do anything drastic, because I know I'm probably not in the right place mentally.

When I sorta let it go, I find myself either worrying about my mental state every once in awhile, but not letting it show. It is quite disturbing to realize that at times, not only am I not fully consciously controlling myself, but everything I do and say is quite normal and happy and reasonable and caring. But when I stop to think or worry, it doesn't seem like myself, and I just seem like this weird floating worry.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/2/09 8:25 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: GreisGreis

Ok, so after some Mindfulness meditation, i realized how much I was holding back emotionally, and how much I really do care about the people in my life. I apologize for kindof making this my personal crisis thread. If anything, I realized how easy it is to fall into the trap of using certain philosophical concepts to protect oneself from negative emotions. Also, how zazen simply isn't enough for a beginner looking for emotional understanding.

Again, thank you all for your help.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/5/09 1:12 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
I think I get what you're saying. I would point out that both modes are you. If you accept them both when they arise and let them both go when they pass then that is all you need to do to see that these conditions are all a part of normal you. The more of the you that you are either pulling on or pushing at the less of the real you you are seeing, by manipulating it either way you have a third, fourth, etc. you, that when you accept that there are also these modes in relation to the others then you see these as well. It goes on like that, yous within yous, wheels within wheels. I find it quite amusing to watch my wheels spin some days.
I hope you come to find yours entertaining as well.
all the best
take care

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/5/09 12:20 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: GreisGreis

Good point. I guess I had my mind stuck on the saying "your thoughts are not you" and somehow assumed that my whole personality (ego, desires, thoughts, opinions) was somehow false or unreal. But not only is that a bit contradictory, but also a very dangerous way of thinking. A more reasonable and accurate perspective it to think that from one perspective, you are definitely your thoughts, hopes, desires, and fears, but from another perspective those thoughts and emotions are manifestations of the real you, and that real you is untouched by them.

The past few days have made me realize how extremely powerful the desire for relinquishment can be. I would warn other meditators to watch this aspect of the ego very carefully. If you find yourself wanting to leave a certain social situation or other daily obligation just so you can meditate or what have you, I would say drop the desire to escape and be a normal person. Don't let practices be an escape or compulsion. But you guys probably already know that. I guess a reminder never hurts.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/6/09 12:46 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: gdias

What I've found is that when I totally detach, I then create of whole new space of love and kindness for things.

My non-attachment to "things" has created pure kind of love for them.

Meditation is a helpful tool but don't "try" to meditate, just sit. 1 minute, 5 minutes, 20 minutes... just sit.

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
8/6/09 2:13 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
After msj123's post I have reflected on non-attachment vs detachment and I am convinced they are separate mechanisms. Not attaching is a choice. Detaching once attached causes the rising above of awareness, trancending a problem. If you've ever been OK with something while upset about it at the same time, and very aware, then that's what I'm talking about. For me, no good comes from detachment. A lot of good comes from non-attachment.

What do others think of this distinction?

Craig

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
9/4/09 8:19 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Dano!

Craig,

I have found tremendous value in differentiating detachment and non-attachment, and I tend to use them similarly to the way msj123 described them. Separating their usage allows for more precise and powerful languaging, which allows better discernment and more skillful action. It helps determining if I'm fooling myself (confusing one for the other) and work with it. I also tend to find detachment in my shadow (and I often need some help to see it), whereas non-attachment is more out in the open.

In my own experience I find the two are often woven together. Grounding this in an example: during my first opening or "kensho" experience, I was astounded by the profundity of what I was experiencing while my wife thought I was distant and detached (in a bad way). With her help and lots of closer inspection, I believe we were both right to a degree. The opening was as real as anything I had experienced and all that weird contrary spiritual mumbo jumbo made sense in an entirely new and direct way. But there were still shadowy kinks where I wasn't full present, not fully "non-attached", like they were cloaked and my new perception passed right over them.

Since I've come down, it's helped more in the day to day with discernment and working with the stuff that inevitably comes up. While useful, I take it with a grain of salt, it's just one of the tools in the toolbox.

Dano!

RE: Detachment and Apathy
Answer
9/4/09 10:14 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: GreisGreis

Dano, I agree completely

I've made quite a bit of practice since I made this topic, and the differentiation is really the key. The way I see it, from a non-dual standpoint, there is always detachment or emptiness, and the real tricky problems occur when the ego "co-opts" them and concretizing them into goals or an ideal that needs to be worked toward. Since the ego is always cycling a bit, when it funnels its problems into the concept of "non attachment" as a cure for those problems. That sortof ego grasping would probably be better called detachment (used in a negative, insensitive way).

Reading Adyashanti's "End of Your World" really cleared a lot of things up for me in this respect, and I think it would be a valuable read to anyone, regardless of your practice.