A dear friend of ours, Maria, passed away from cancer 2 years ago. As her husband was taking her to the hospital, in the last stages of her life, she gave him this amazing advice, “Detach yourself. Control the reactive process. Live the teachings.” One could almost say that these simple words sum up the spiritual path. They also show us how we can be happy in all circumstances.
Only a little reflection allows us to see that the things that happen, in and of themselves, aren’t the issue. It is how we react to events that make them seem positive or negative. Rainy weather is just rainy weather. It seems positive or negative according to our likes and dislikes — gardeners love it, sunbathers not so much.
When we detach ourselves we gain control over our reactions. Here is an example I read once: Imagine sitting on a crowded bus with a cup of coffee. Just as you are about to take a sip, someone bumps your elbow causing you to spill all over yourself. Your immediate reaction is anger and you turn to give the person a piece of your mind. Then you see that he is blind. See how the change in your expectation (of what you consider to be normal behavior) changes your reaction?
The tranquility of saints is due to the fact that they accept life exactly as it is. Their power to change others starts with accepting them as they are — a good model for us to follow. And it starts with detachment and non-reaction. Be attentive to the very next thing that upsets your peace of mind. Now trace back to why you are upset. Were you holding an expectation regarding the behavior of others? If you can let go of the expectation, you can let go of the negative reaction. Only once the negative reaction is gone, can you begin to surround the person or situation with peace, love, and harmony.
When we are dealing with an issue affecting us, especially one that pushes our buttons, here is a helpful technique. Imagine that the situation is happening, not to you, but to a friend. What advice would you give him or her? A little bit of mental distance can help us be much more objective.
Being non-attached is an easy principle to understand but a hard one to practice. Yet, if we can practice even a little of Maria’s advice, to detach from expectations and control our reactions and live the teachings, it will yield a harvest of peace and happiness.