What are the qualities that can help you have more rewarding and fulfilling relationships? Emotional awareness, clarity in communication, empathy are probably some of the things that come to your mind. But there is another, often overlooked ingredient: detachment. You might be surprised to hear that detachment is an important quality for relationships. But in fact, it is much more than that. Detachment is a highly beneficial state of mind in all the fields of life, and in our relationship with objects, people, even our own physical body.
Detachment is not Indifference
When hearing about detachment in relationships, you might translate it internally as “indifference” – hardly one of the best qualities in any kind of relationship. You might think that a detached person is one that has no human relationships at all, or if he does, then they must be cold and superficial. It’s important to clarify this confusion: detachment has nothing to do with indifference, although sometimes even dictionaries will fall into the trap of confusing them. Indifference means a lack of interest and sympathy towards a person or object. Detachment, on the other hand, refers to the state of mind of being objective and not clinging, and it springs from a deep consideration of the conditions of human existence. I will illustrate this through an example.
Imagine that you go on a package trip with a group of people that you don’t know. The journey will last for two weeks and the participants are coming from all over the world; you are probably not going to see them again after the holiday is over and everyone goes back home. Now, imagine that in this group there is a person that you find amazingly attractive and interesting. You know well that you will share only a short time, and you accept this reality; nevertheless, or actually because of that, you intend to make the most out of the few days that you can spend together. There is no trace of indifference here, but the conditions of your encounter with that person force you, in a certain sense, to be detached.
This too Shall Pass
You might object that this example covers a very special case, and that our close relationships are not developed under those conditions. But is that really the case? After all, we human beings always share a finite lapse of time together, just like people that meet on a package trip. The major difference is that, in real life, you don’t have any clue about when your shared time with another person is going to come to an end. The circumstances of life, the frailty of the human condition, the instability of emotions; all of these factors make relationships much less predictable than we usually believe. If you meditate deeply upon the impermanence of life, detachment will be the inevitable consequence. But just as in the example of a package trip, detachment in real life does not mean indifference: on the contrary, it will empower you to live every relationship with love and intensity, knowing that it could end at any moment.
Detachment is a state of mind that will help you both in times of joy and sorrow. We all know that life is a mixture of pleasure and pain, of comfort and hardship. Probably, you tend to cling to pleasure, hoping that it will never leave you, and you are overwhelmed by pain, fearing that it will never end. But when you start practicing detachment, you will be able to endure difficult moments with even a certain sense of humor, knowing that – as a wise saying goes – this too shall pass. In the same way, you will enjoy the beautiful moments of life without being tainted by the fear that they will end – as they undoubtedly will.
All this doesn’t mean that you need to live in constant insecurity, fearing that everything you rely upon could crumble at any given moment. Quite the opposite, being detached from success and failure, from pleasure and pain, will bring you back into connection with the only thing that is invariably present, stable, and safe: your center of pure awareness and pure love. Detachment is necessary to reach a state of equanimity, and to be able to live fully in the present moment, without worries or regrets.
Towards Unconditional Love
What happens when you start practicing detachment in your love relationships? You have then found the path that leads to unconditional love. Only a detached person can love unconditionally, that is, without expecting anything in return. Being attached to someone means that you love them because of their proximity, which makes you feel good. But what will happen when your loved one does something that upsets you, or simply decides to leave? All too often, attached love then turns into bitterness, anger and resentment.
When you love with detachment, you are not concerned with the results of your loving, which emanates from you just like perfume from a flower. The flower won’t stop spreading its delicious smell when we walk away from it; in the same way, you can love out of a genuine overflow of energy from the heart, without any conditions or limitations. If attached love expresses itself by the words “I love you because…”, pointing to some external condition as being the cause of love, detached love just says “I love you”, without any conditions. You can go even one step further and realize that pure, unconditional love, is best expressed by the words “I love”. As Osho beautifully said: “Love is not a relationship, it is a state of being”.
Love is an Overflowing
Unconditional love is, in a certain sense, independent of the object of love. Although in a particular moment of your life your unconditional love might be focused on one specific person, it does not depend on them. If that person disappeared from your life, the unconditional love would still be there, overflowing from the heart, ready to focus on another wonderful human being when the time comes. Thus, detachment brings to your loving a quality of universality, in which the object of love is not anymore the cause of it. The source of any form of love is inside you, and you don’t depend on anyone to be able to express it.
This is one of the most liberating shifts that a human being can do. Perhaps, you have always believed that another person is responsible for bringing you into the wonderful state of being that you call “love”. But this erroneous conception is the reason why you cling to others, you are afraid of their departure, and you put upon them the burden of making you happy. Once you understand that love springs from within you and that no one else is responsible for it, you can continue loving others, but the fear and the clinging disappear. You will realize that no event in life, not even the death of your loved one, can take this state of being away from you.
Learning to practice detachment is one of the most important tools to develop unconditional love, a non-clinging attitude towards both things and people, and the capacity to enjoy the present moment with intensity. Accepting the impermanence of life means reshaping all of our assumptions about existence – but thanks to this process, the possibility arises for us to love unreservedly, without conditions, and without fear.