Detachment is a mental state of freedom or indifference of bias. A person overcomes their attachment to need and desire for things, people or concepts of the world, for a heightened perspective and ease of mind.
Non-attachment is considered a wise virtue in various Eastern religions. Detachment is a key concept in Christian spirituality (often referred to by the Greek term apatheia), where it signifies a detachment from worldly objects and concerns.
As a Christian, when we know we are loved, this is the best preparation for ‘letting go,’ acceptance, and detachment. There is not a major need to judge, but to understand.
In Whelan (2011), he describes detachment comes to us as a gift. It is a product of grace, not mastery or manipulation. Just as those who are loved turn easily and joyfully towards those who love them, detachment has us easily and joyfully looking beyond ourselves towards the One who has loved us (Creator). In this we are grateful and experience serenity—soundness of mind.
There are useful practices to understand when engaging in (mindfulness) “awareness” for detachment. Eastern Christian monasticism cultivated practices of detached watchfulness which were designed to calm the passions and lead to an ongoing state of calm detachment known as apatheia (Spiritual Life, 2022).
Importance of Stoic Detachment
Detachment as release from desire and consequently from suffering is an important principle, or even ideal, in the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Stoicism, and Taoism.
In Buddhist and Hindu religious texts, the opposite concept is expressed as upādāna, translated as “attachment.” Attachment, the inability to practice or embrace detachment, is viewed as the main obstacle towards a serene and fulfilled life. Other spiritual traditions identify the lack of detachment with the continuous worries and restlessness produced by desire and personal ambitions.
Eastern Christian monasticism cultivated practices of detached watchfulness which were designed to calm the passions and lead to an ongoing state of calm detachment known as apatheia. In Western Christianity, Ignatian spirituality encourages detachment, sometimes referred to as indifference, to maximize a person’s availability to God and to their neighbors.
The Christian practices of detachment derive from ancient Greek philosophy, most notably Stoicism. According to (Spiritual Life, 2022), the Stoics, apatheia, which can be translated as equanimity, was the quality that characterized the sage (wise one).
Aristotle claimed that virtue was to be found in the golden mean between an excess and a deficiency of emotion (metriopatheia). The Stoics thought that living virtuously provided freedom from the passions, resulting in apatheia. It meant eradicating the tendency to react emotionally or egotistically to external events, the things that cannot be controlled.
For Stoics, the optimally rational response to the world, for things cannot be controlled if they are caused by the will of others or by Nature; only one’s own will can be controlled. This did not mean a loss of feeling, or total disengagement from the world. The Stoic who performs correct (virtuous) judgments and actions as part of the world order experiences consistent contentment (eudaimonia) and good feelings (eupatheia).
One of the telltale signs of authentic Christian detachment will be joy and gratitude—two natural human reactions to the experience of love and freedom. Christian detachment enables us to see what does not really matter in this or that circumstance and graciously let go of it. Quietness of mind (strength) is necessary.
The poem (lyric) by Helen Seiner Rice entitled, Strength (Lloyd, 2000), encapsulates what is needed for detachment, judgment, and acceptance:
If I can endure for this minute
Whatever is happening to me,
No matter how heavy my heart is
Or how dark the moment may be ‒
If I can remain calm and quiet
With all my world crashing about me,
Secure in the knowledge God loves me
When everyone else seems to doubt me‒
If I can but keep on believing
What I know in my heart to be true,
That darkness will fade with the morning
And that this will pass away, too ‒
Then nothing in life can defeat me
For as long as this knowledge remains
I can suffer whatever is happening
For I know God will break all the chains–
That are binding me tight in the darkness
And trying to fill me with fear ‒
For there is no night without dawning
And I know that my morning is near.
Whether one practices Stoic Christian or Eastern philosophies of detachment, one must consider the state of mind of equanimity. Any self-realized form (practice) that can ease the mind of burden can achieve sanity–soundness of mind. Detachment is necessary for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Let go. Participate in life. There is no permanence. Life is transitory.
Lloyd, S. M. (2000). Rice, Helen (1901-1980), violinist and advocate of Chamber Music. American National Biography Online. https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1802913
Spiritual Life. (2022). Detachment (Philosophy). Slife. https://slife.org/detachment
Watts, Alan. (2017, December 3). Let go of attachment -Featuring U. G. Krishnamurti/Terrance McKenna. You Tube. https://youtu.be/y_I3Iqx8GY0
Whelan, M. D. (2011). Being loved into freedom: reflections on a Christian understanding of detachment. The Australasian Catholic Record, 88(3), 306–317. https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=CPLI0000526095&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=s8333196&groupid=main&profile=eds1