In the mysticism of Meister Eckhart, there is the idea of detachment, which along with the Birth, and the Breakthrough form a dialectic for attaining, or rather, realizing mystical union with the One. These three things then are to be experienced in unison, or simultaneously as we seek divine transcendence.
For now, we will focus on the first aspect of this, detachment.
What is detachment? What does it look like practically? And how do we attain to this state? Let’s answer each question:
1. What is detachment?
The opposite of this word would be attachment, grasping onto things. So detachment would be the letting go of things, non-grasping. This concept is very similar, if not identical to the Buddhist doctrine of non-grasping. In Buddhism, to have desire, or attachment is to suffer, because it reifies you into the World of Suffering called samsara.
For us, samsara would be the consciousness of the natural, and particularly of that personal world of self-awareness. If we grasp onto our ego, or who we think we are in ourselves, then we become reified, reincarnated if you will into the delusional world, the Maya of our own making. Meaning that in our consciousness, instead of His Presence, and the awareness of the Spirit, we are conscious of the flesh, and of the natural. We thus operate under thenatural man, that is the soul, our “i”. This is a ‘reincarnation’ in its true meaning, not in terms of a literal re-birth, but a reifying into the consciousness of the flesh, the natural, and ego-dominated constructs.
2. What does detachment look like practically?
Disinterestedness, or indifference toward self. Doing things simply based on love of God, others, and the expression of God and His will in the moment. Not doing anything for the sake of self, or for self-interest. Charles G. Finney (of the 2nd Great Awakening of the 19th century in America) often spoke of disinterested benevolence, loving God and others without interest to self; holding the goodness and well-being of God, and of others as being of more value than yourself, choosing this as an ultimate end in life.
We may ask ourselves, “In what I’m doing, do I have any self-consciousness about it? Is there any thought of reward for self, or avoidance of punishment?” Is there any thought of, “What’s in it for me?” Now, as highly thought of as charities are, and philanthropy is, still, if there’s any consideration for ‘self’, then there is attachment, and the good deeds are done interestedly, that is in self interest, rather than disinterestedly.
Someone who is detached works in the present moment out of love to God and others, with no thought for self. If opportunity arises for self-gratification, there will be a repulsion of such temptation, because there is no desire to reify the flesh, and delusion through attachment to the things of this world.
Denial of self is a not looking down on yourself, it is not looking at yourself at all. This is the attitude of one who seeks detachment from the things of this world. But where is pleasure? Someone may ask. All pleasure is derived in and from God, from Whom all blessings flow.
3. How do we attain a state of detachment?
To be sure, this is no easy task in itself, especially in the beginning. And perhaps for most of us it will be a life-long venture to fully become detached. Remember, this is only one aspect of realization of that Oneness with the divine nature, but it is definitely necessary. Every belief system that teaches any kind of mystical union will stress some form of detachment.
We can view the ‘how to’ of detachment in at least 3 points: Daily circumstances, self-emptying, prayer and meditation.
1) Daily circumstances: The Holy Spirit works through our day-to-day circumstances to bring about the sanctifying work of abnegation. How does He do this? Through situations and dilemmas that go cross-grain against our psychic dispositions, selfishness and personal prejudices. Now many things the Holy Spirit targets are things that may be quite natural in the eyes of the world. Like pride in our talents, and abilities, pride in our personal accomplishments, etc. Also the things in our soul that are of the flesh, like jealousies, pride, hatred, envy, etc.
These circumstances are meant to ‘break’ our soulish man, or strike at our soul-life, which is like an outer encasement trapping in the human spirit, and its powerful life. When the Holy Spirit accomplishes this, He can flow out from us, and we won’t spoil His work through our life quenching, selfishness as it manifests through our mind, will and emotions.
2) Self-emptying: This is where, as Jesus taught us, humble ourselves, to allow ourselves to fall on, and be broken on the Rock, Who is Christ, (instead of having the Rock fall on us, grinding us to powder ~ see Mt 21:44). Also, Scripture speaks of pouring out ourselves, that is, our souls, like water before His face (Lam 2:19). One is reminded of the woman with the alabaster box. She first had to break it before she could pour out the precious contents upon the Lord Jesus (Mk 14:3).
First, we discussed brokenness, particularly that which is affected by the operation of the Holy Spirit through our circumstances. We ourselves fall upon Him, whether motivated by revelation, or by the aforementioned circumstances, to be broken. Then, once we’re broken before Him, that is, the hardness of the alabaster box of our soul has been broken, we then are able to pour our selves upon Him, thus losing our soul-life, our self upon His Head. Then as a result , what comes forth when our self is thus poured out, is the fragrance of our spirit-man, and the divine life thereof. And this holy fragrance benefits all who are in the house (Jn 12:3).
This self-emptying is accomplished by seeking Him with all our hearts, and by letting go, giving to Him, anything that we ourselves are inclined to grasp onto, whether legitimate or sinful. We pour it all out onto Him our Beloved Lord, as a libation, a drink offering.
3) Prayer and meditation: We see how all these ways of detaching are inter-related, and overlap. We already touched on prayer in this regard. But anyway, in our daily prayer life, and in meditation, we have opportunity to yield ourselves to Him, to let go.
In prayer and meditation, we quiet ourselves before Him, and this is not easy. We want to think, feel, and we have our own agendas in prayer, a “grocery list” if you will. This is O.K., and certainly He wants to hear our concerns, and issues. I’m not talking about methods of prayer or meditation right now, just the purposes thereof.
Quietness, stillness, just abiding in His Presence, focused on Him, and Him alone. Thinking? Well, we’re not advocating “mindlessness”, as this is not really possible in ourselves anyway, and its by no means the goal. The Chinese Taoist term, wu-hsi, no mind, doesn’t mean not thinking, but a not thinking on purpose. We allow thoughts to come in and out of our mind as clouds drift to and fro in the sky. This should be as free and effortless as breathing itself. But it requires a letting go.
The less of us, the more of Him, just as John the Baptist said, He must increase, but I must decrease. – Jn 3:30. Emptiness allows Him to fill us up with His Presence. But in order to empty ourselves we must first let go, this is detachment.Invite Leon to Speak