The Beauty of Detachment
We often use the word detachment in a negative context in the United States, discussing it as it relates to depression, to disengaging from or becoming indifferent to the things that were once important to us. But today, I want to discuss detachment as conceptualized by Buddhism—which tells us that attachment to worldly things is the root of suffering—and how developing an ability to detach can lead us to greater joy.
It’s wonderful to be passionately invested in something, whether it be a job, a sport, or a relationship. When we give something our total commitment and focus, we can find great success. This investment becomes problematic, however, when we begin to attach our self-worth to our successes and failures.
I find that the professional and elite athletes I work with often come to identify deeply with their sport. The practice of their sport often consumes many of their waking hours, and others may see them mostly through the lens of what they do on the court or field. When I work with clients in this position, I strive to remind them that their sport is what they do, not who they are. Making their self-worth contingent on performance not only makes them miserable personally, but it causes them to lose the objectivity that they need to improve. If you judge yourself every time you have a bad workout, it makes it much harder to get back at it the next day.
This is equally true for non-athletes: too often we judge ourselves by and equate our value with our success in a certain area. But just because you have a rough patch at work, that doesn’t mean you are stupid and lazy; being dumped doesn’t mean you’re unattractive and unlovable, nor does losing your temper with your child make you a bad parent. If you judge yourself on the basis of a few attributes or bad moments, you’re selling your humanity short. Many of us often even go so far as to judge ourselves for our thoughts. However, we’re not our thoughts, and thinking “I want to kill that guy” wouldn’t make you a murderous person any more than thinking “I’m Barack Obama” would make you the president.
When you separate your worth as a person from judgments and measurements, you will be able to relax. You’ll ultimately be more successful in whatever you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ll certainly be happier.
rather than using a bad performance or moment to chastise yourself, write it in a journal and give yourself permission to let it go. “Ink it, don’t think it!”