Detachment/Passion Finding The Balance : LUSENET : Experience into Words : One Thread

Anne Marie Lee. June 30th '02

Dear Everybody looking in, This is a first draft of thoughts that have been going around in my head for some time. While it may not be pure theology it is trying to sort out some of the stuff I have learned from different sources and which appear paradoxical to me.


Attachment to the ego or self is encouraged in all aspects of secular life today. Media advertising repeatedly tells us to pamper ourselves Ďbecause you are worth ití. People appear to be more conscious of their rights than of their obligations. The sense of responsibility we had in the past to voluntarily offer our time and labour in various organisations, or privately, for the benefit of others in the community, appears to be lost. It is possible that with this degree of emphasis on the self we come to mistake our wants for needs? Years ago if a child didnít have a pair of shoes she went to school in her bare feet, especially in the summer. There was a need for a pair of shoes. Today if a child doesnít have brand name runners she may refuse to go to school. The child wants a particular brand of shoe, she probably has several pairs in her wardrobe - she has a wardrobe.

Why is the particular pair of shoes, or for that matter, clothing, type of car, piece of furniture, size of television/video, foreign holiday, so important? Itís important because it gives the owner status among his peers. It puts him on a particular step on the social ladder. It feeds his ego, his sense of self importance is enhanced, but only for a short time. The novelty wears off the material item and the search begins again for the next object of satisfaction. This attachment to the ego would also appear to have an adverse effect on human relationships; the other is created for my satisfaction, my pleasure, my advancement. This occurs between individuals resulting in broken relationships, separations, divorce; between groups of people, very often over religious or cultural differences and between nations over perceived rights to land. With this kind of search to satisfy the self constantly going on, jealousy and greed arise and begin to destructively take over. There is a felt need to keep up with , or to overtake those around us in acquiring wealth. There is a fear of being seen to be different. The rat race is in full swing. Work all the hours God sends to pay for luxuries, childminders, holidays, house extensions and so on; come home exhausted; roll into bed and up the next morning for the same round of hassle and bother. Weekends are spent catching up on laundry, housework, shopping, cooking for the freezer and gardening. No time to stop and ask key questions. What do I want out of life? Is all this worth it? Are we missing out on the childrenís growth and development? Are we working to make money or spending money to work?

There is no doubt that there are people who must work this hard in order to meet their basic needs and in this, is a serious question of justice. All of this work and effort is put in to feeding the ego. The soul or spirit remains impoverished because it is not nourished by material wealth, status or prestige. For me the soul/spirit is the life in me. My soul is what makes me the unique person that I am, it causes me to ask questions such as: Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my destiny? Is there a God? What is my relationship to God, to others and to nature? What are my responsibilities? John Moriarty (philosopher, writer and broadcaster) talks scathingly about the churches teaching that nature was created for manís use and benefit - the word man being used in its generic sense to mean men and women; this, in the light of the destruction caused to nature by humans. Scripture tells us many times how God has provided for us. For example in Ps. 104 v. 13-15. " From your palace you water the uplands until the ground has had all that your heavens have to offer; you make fresh grass grow for cattle and those plants made use of by man, for them to get food from the soil: wine to make them cheerful, oil to make them happy and bread to make them strong."

God gave humans the responsibility of caring for the earth and all it contained; of caring for each other. I have often wondered why He gave us charge of it knowing that we would abuse it for our own use and benefit. Ps. 8 v 3-8 (Jerusalem Bible)

"I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place- ah, what is man that you should spare a thought for him, the son of man that you should care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and splendour, make him lord over the work of your hands, set all things under his feet,

sheep and oxen, all these, yes, wild animals too, birds in the air, fish in the sea travelling the paths of the ocean."

So what has happened to leave the earth in the state of destruction it is in and we humans so unwilling to go beyond tokenism or lip service in reaching out to help each other and share the gifts God has given to us? We have become so attached to our own ego that we donít even see the Ďotherí, nor do we realise that this attachment may also be the main cause of our discontent.

Most religions teach some form of self discipline whereby its followers reach a point of inner stillness in which to commune with God. There are many in the Catholic tradition who talk about emptying oneself for God. Meister Eckhart says " be empty of all creatures is to be full of God, and to be full of all creatures is to be empty of God." P121 (Meister Eckhart Sermons and Treatises, Vol 111. Trans. M.OíC Walshe.) If we must be empty in order to make space for God and at the same time, according to Paulís letter to the Romans Ch 12 v 14- 17. "Bless those who persecute you: never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor. Do not allow yourself to become self-satisfied." Is this not paradoxical? How can I be empty and at the same time full of joy or sadness. Personally I will opt to be content with my cup half full. In this way I have a store from which to give and a space into which I may receive.

Passion is usually associated with sexual love, outbursts of anger, enthusiasm for doing something such as a hobby. The passion I refer to here is that of Jesus; His Life, Death and Resurrection freely given out of an incredible love and concern for us. One cannot be passionate in this sense without being detached from the ego. In this one comes out of oneself totally in concern for the other. One overcomes personal fear of embarrassment, ridicule, opposing authority, in pursuit of a solution for the needs of the other. One is driven, out of a sense of justice, by anger, horror, sadness or compassion to work directly with or on behalf of the other to right the situation. In order to do this one must be in touch with feelings and emotions and rather than disperse them in order to create an emptiness, a stillness inside, in which to welcome God, it is necessary to assess these feelings and emotions, acting on them, with Godís blessings; uniting with God in the other person or people in your attempt to be of assistance, to be helpful in meeting their needs. Maybe the key to becoming detached from material things, relationships, addictions, etc. is to focus on becoming detached from the ego, from the self. This would mean not being concerned about ownership or status; not feeling the need to wear the latest fashion or drive an expensive car, not becoming dependent in relationships. Being detached from the ego one can live fully, emotionally spiritually and physically within the moral norms of society and church because one is free to explore. Free from slavery to self. Being detached from the ego one can take what life throws at you and have a right attitude to it; not being crushed with disappointment or sadness and frustration when things donít work out as intended

The Jesuits have a saying "Itís a question of mind over matter, if you donít mind it doesnít matter". I first heard a Jesuit tell that in reference to one of his confreres who, when asked about his experience of being tortured, gave that as his answer. When considering detachment this question of mind over matter seems to me to be important. Being detached does not mean being indifferent, nor does it mean hiding behind a protective barrier, or suppressing feelings and emotions in order to avoid becoming involved. No, to my way of thinking it means the opposite. It means becoming fully involved in life and relationship, feeling the pain, joy, hurts, frustrations, contentment etc. fully, without clinging to them, without being dragged down by them, without allowing them to adversely influence your choices and decisions. "You should know that the outer man can be active while the inner man is completely free of this activity and unmoved". Meister Eckhart p124

For example: Being detached from the ego in love: is to fall in love with someone with all the emotional turmoil that entails while at the same time being able to assess the situation for what it is; to live out that love in the context in which it has arisen, respecting and upholding existing commitments, or to allow it to develop into a life long exclusive union making new promises and commitments, the two people involved having first acknowledged their freedom to go down this path and assessed their potential compatibility for such a relationship.

Being detached from the ego in frustration and anger; might be in caring for an elderly relative who lives alone in deteriorating physical conditions and who is uncooperative and even anti social. The carer sees the needs, wishes for a better quality of life for the elderly relative, is prepared to put the work into caring but has her hands tied because of the lack of co-operation. Every suggestion for improvement in the situation is knocked down. The felt anger and frustration is intense and could drive the carer to walk away and leave the old person to wallow in it. The carer would have a sense of failure but her ego would be salved by the fact that it was the elderly persons own fault for being so stubborn. If, however, she is detached from her ego she will continue to feel the anger and frustration but will be sufficiently objective to draw up new plans of care for this relative and continue to chip away at the situation, building up trust and friendship as she goes. The elderly relativeís need might be greater for companionship than for medication or hygiene.

Being detached from the ego in embarrassing situations. If a person behaves in an anti social manner at the table by pouring tea into the saucer and slurping it loudly, does it matter? No, it doesnít, not if you donít mind. If you can detach from your sensitivity to the behaviour, from the part of your ego which urges you to correct, then it doesnít matter. The question is, how difficult would you find it, not just to ignore the behaviour but also to genuinely say to yourself "I donít mind"?

An area in which attachment to the ego can and does destroy relationships and puts an end to good works is, perceived lack of appreciation. We all need hugs periodically. Take the mother who is a full time home maker. She is taken forgranted by husband and children. It is expected that the dinner will appear on the table at six each evening, clothes are washed and ironed, the house is kept clean and the fridge is full, with seldom a word of thanks. Being attached to her ego she becomes angry and resentful, creating a negative tension in the home. She is unhappy and can see no way out of it. She has become a doormat to her family buying their affection through her work. Yet, it is only she herself who can change her situation; not by walking away but, by detaching from her ego. If she doesnít mind the lack of appreciation then it doesnít matter. Once she begins to carry out her tasks out of love rather than out of her need for approval she will focus away from self and find contentment in a task well done. Her life and work can be a continuous prayer.

It is possible that the family will begin to notice the difference in her approach to them, the tension will disappear, the quality of her attention will improve, she will make less emotional demands on them and they will, in turn, begin to be less guarded in their approach to her. A spiritual dimension will have crept in which will gradually change everything for the better. She begins to command respect because of who she is and not what she does.

Now, as you read you may be thinking Ďthis leaves the individual wide open to abuseí. It is true that for life to run smoothly both sides of any relationship must be of similar mind and prepared to give and take. Where a person is being abused or taken advantage of that person is obliged to be assertive in correcting the situation through dialogue and negotiation, seeking outside help as necessary until a satisfactory solution is reached; and that may be, to separate.

Being detached from material wealth does not mean doing without the things you need. It means not wasting time and energy acquiring surplus wealth. It also means not yearning for the things you havenít got and may never have the means to purchase. It means using what is at your disposal wisely and for the benefit of others as well as yourself. Time is like gold dust, when we acquire and spend material wealth wisely we will find that we have a lot more time available which we can also spend wisely if we choose.

When asked "which is the greatest commandment of the Law" Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself." In the light of the suggestion that one should become totally empty of, or totally detached from, material things and creatures in order to give all of ones self to God, then the first two commandments are impossible for us to obey.

It is true that the call of a few is this pure detachment from self and all worldly things in pursuit of constant union with God. This call being lived out in enclosed convents or in the eremetical style either in urban or in isolated rural settings. The rest of humankind must settle for a search for union with God in the midst of the world.

No call is higher or more special than any other. It is the purity and commitment with which the call, no matter how humble, is answered that is special. In the first letter of Peter Ch 4: 10-11. the following instruction is given: "Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at Godís orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever." Jesus came to serve. In so far as we can detach from our ego - pride, greed, self will, status, to serve others, we are in union with and are serving God.

Not many of us are called to union with God in detachment from the world and material wealth in the eremetical sense. To immerse ourselves in passionate response to the needs of others without seeking Godís blessing in prayer and reflection would be folly. We must seek a balance between detachment from and passion for. Being constantly in communion with Jesus through the Eucharist, regular prayer and reflection helps to keep the soul nourished, the heart content and the ego in its place. Time is given to action and time to reflection. An appropriate portion of time is taken out to nourish and re-energise the self. Anne Marie

-- Anonymous, June 30, 2002


Hello People, I just checked in to see if this site was still alive and who is watching out for new contributions. Blessings on all of you. Anne Marie

-- Anonymous, October 22, 2002

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