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 to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others' needs and understand how to serve them.” - Mahatma Gandhi on detachment
I love the phrase ‘yes and.’ Sometimes that yes may involve saying more than just yes. I have studied non-violent communication. The premise there is that you try and empathize and figure out what the other person needs and what they are feeling right now. And you verbalize that as part of your yes because you get what is happening to them. If you are talking to someone, you can say ‘I think I hear you saying it’s important to be able to trust the outcome of elections and it seems you are troubled by the possibility that the elections weren’t fair. Is that safe to say?’ And they would say yes. You can keep going in that line. They might not be ready to hear your point of view and you can ask them if they are ready to your slightly different view. It doesn’t happen automatically that they can switch from being all worked up to being able to hear another side. The point you made today is that you tried hard to read over that critique until you began to get what the other person considered their truth. I’m going to remember ‘yes and’ because it causes a pause, and you do stop to think about the other person as well as just yourself and your views.
Thank you for reminding me of the mirroring and reflecting. There are lots of ways to create conversation.
Thank you. I was touched by the Attar story of the dog keeper. What you are saying is very clear and meaningful, and yet it conjures up in me such a struggle how one does it. It’s such an art and skill to be able to find that from such a genuine place. The word detachment seems like an avenue to get there. I don’t know how long it will take me to get there. I have a relationship with a family member who is the polar opposite of me in spiritual thinking and religious beliefs. It’s only because this is a family member that I have tried. I’ve gone through many versions of trying to hear what he has to say, be accepting from a place where he doesn’t have to agree with me and he doesn’t have to try to change me. That was always my hook. You are free to feel what you feel, but I don’t want to be lectured at. It truly is an incredible place to be in. If one can work even for moments in it, I think that is a real wonderful goal. Thank you very much for reminding me of that journey. With what is going on now, it is easy to get alarmed. One cannot detach from that. One can’t go any other place until one is detached.
Thank you. It was a wonderful reading. I think the piece that spoke to me the most was taking a small piece. I made it very personal, someone I am close to, someone I love. In some ways, that was harder to look at than the bigger picture. Yesterday, I shared I was making a fire and holding it all day, the heart energy in the fire. What I got today was to create something, with the intention of letting go, the feeling of letting go. I don’t know how it will manifest, but my intention today is to create something around letting go and releasing.
You are doing it from your heart. That’s wonderful.
I was struck by the phrase ‘what acceptance feels like.’ That called to me. In the interwoven threads in my meditation between acceptance and detachment. I struggled—I am attached to the outcome. I want my family member to love my friends like I do. Other ways. There are countless ways, like arguments with people with differing political views. And why do I get so attached to what they think. I do recognize it is my own belief that the outcome is a reflection of who I am. Do they love me? Am I worthy? Am I being seen? Trying to feel what acceptance really feels like has to start deep in my core, all parts of me, even parts I am ashamed of, so that when I am in discussion with someone else, it feels more authentic, genuine, present. But how to get there? That’s a whole other thing.
It’s really good to take small, small steps.
I have to think about that more, there are so many layers. A while back, I heard a true story on NPR about an intelligence officer overseas. Her mission was to try to stop bombings. She gained the trust of someone. She met with him and was in fear, but the man had a baby in his lap who had asthma. She pulled out a small vial of clove oil that she uses for her own baby. The men left and came back with a woman with a branch of cloves. They met on this common ground of concern for their babies. People from such different backgrounds and purposes were able to meet in the caring of a child.
In the blog (see above), there is a link to a TED talk by Jonathan Haidt who explains ways to reach across the political divide.
Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you for sharing your presence, your thoughts, your energy. Have a wonderful and ‘yes-and’ blessed day. Thank you so much.
Photo credit: Chinese Bird Design, Albert Racinet, 1888