Updated: Jan 10
by Thea Iberall
Last week, I reflected back on the first three valleys in Attar’s book The Conference of the Birds. I talked about letting go of others’ values in the first valley, being in my heart and letting go of reason in the second valley, and not letting knowledge cloud my mind in the third valley. And I said that acceptance is the key.
The fourth valley is the Valley of Detachment. In a meditation I read a few months ago, I shared the story of a seeker on a spiritual quest. He meets a dog keeper who says he abandoned his spiritual life to take care of dogs. When the seeker expresses his confusion, the dog keeper says, “I would rather look ridiculous than only appear as if I know the meaning of a spiritual life.” The dog keeper then teaches the seeker how to take care of the dogs. As he detaches from his search, the seeker enjoys the simple gift of taking care of innocent creatures and learns it is enough to be living a homesteader’s life.
A lot has happened since I wrote about that valley; a lot has happened since last week when I reflected on the first three. It is so easy in these troubling times to pick up fear, resentments, judgments, disgust. It is so easy to want to find and blame the supposedly evil perpetrators of lies and violence. To yell at the television, to spew negative comments on social media. Part of me wants to do that and yet, I keep thinking, what would Attar say? And what would it take for me to really detach?
I think it’s all about fear. I know I can’t detach from my really big fears today but maybe I can start with baby steps. Maybe I can find confrontational situations where I can practice detachment in little ways.
I do volunteer work for an organization where leaders are having differing opinions about how to proceed. One of the leaders got very confrontational this week and criticized the approach the other leaders wanted to take. I realized I had a choice in how to respond: I could be critical and defensive in return or I could ignore the statements. I decided to take a third approach and that was to deflect. I put on my curious ears and read the critique from that person’s perspective. Because acceptance is not about thinking about acceptance. It’s about really feeling it. I reflected on the critique until I could actually find ways to agree with it. And then I answered with a ‘yes and’ response. In my heart, I could say, “it’s true what you are saying and here are some more truths.”
Sometimes I say something that others don’t like. And they respond in negative ways. In the past, I would get defensive, call them names, and not want to speak to them again. I would harbor a resentment, sometimes for years. But today, putting myself in the dog keeper’s shoes, I try to put on my curious ears and listen to them from their perspective. Find a way to agree and then answer ‘yes and.’
And as for the political divide we are living in, I have confronted people from the other side before. Intellectually, I know both sides are needed. Liberals look to the future wanting to expand society, conservatives look to the past to maintain stability. Liberals have empathic thinking and connect emotionally to people. Conservatives have systemic thinking and live by the rules. Mutual responsibility versus individual responsibility. Somewhere in there is a ‘yes and’ for both sides.
I love answering people ‘yes and.’ I love not just avoiding confrontation but moving through and beyond it. It’s like I’m feeding expectancy with a bucket of ‘yes and’ happy sauce. There’s no place to go but to be in acceptance and thankfulness.
This valley is about acceptance and thankfulness. Acceptance is not about thinking about acceptance. It’s about really feeling it. And seeing beyond what I was brought up to believe, what reason tells me is true, and what I think I know. Maybe if I continue to practice acceptance in the littlest of things, then I will learn what true detachment is.
“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachment to our opinions: we want others