I while back I found this very useful article by Douglas Todd, on the potential downside of meditation. Todd asks:
“But can meditation, contemplation and related practices encourage people to detach too effectively from their so-called negative thoughts, leading them to actually detach from life itself?”
To which my answer is, “Yes, but that can be remedied.”
Detachment and non-attachment
It’s important to remember that the purpose of meditation is not detachment. Even the most hardcore of Buddhists will use the term ‘non-attachment’ rather than ‘detachment’ – and, by the way, apply it to both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ thoughts.
The distinction between non-attachment and detachment a subtle but vital one. For me, the purpose of meditation is to still my mind in order to enhance my awareness. In my experience, detachment does not enhance my awareness, but blocks it; detaching is what I do when I feel overwhelmed, when I cannot cope with feeling, when life becomes too painful. Non-attachment facilitates awareness by making it possible to feel everything without overwhelm; non-attachment, in fact, reconnects me.
So how can we avoid falling into detachment?
Firstly, we can love ourselves, and not beat ourselves up about it. Our complexes can twist anything – including spiritual practice – into serving our fears.
Secondly, we can address whatever it is in our lives that’s making detachment and disconnection feel like such an attractive option right now. It’s (just about) possible to do this alone, but not recommended. Find help. Help can be in the form of a friend, especially an anam cara or soul friend, someone who may not be on exactly the same path as you, but who gets you, and what your path is about. Or you can find a counsellor or therapist who accepts the spiritual aspect of your life, and/or look for a spiritual counsellor.
Thirdly, we can seek support from a spiritual teacher, guide or director, who can keep returning us to what is important, what will truly serve our spiritual journey. One thing that I have found helpful in falling on the non-attachment rather than the detachment side, is being consistently brought up by my spiritual teachers against not only the first Grail question, “What is the secret of the Grail?” which points to our inner seeking, but also the second question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” which points us beyond ourselves, not to serving our own peace of mind only, but to serving God, the Divine, the Universe, Life, which requires us to connect deeply, with ourselves, with other humans, and with all other beings.
I’d love to know about your experiences with these questions. What has led you to wanting to disconnect, to detach? What has most helped you to reconnect?