Numbing Out, Disconnection, Isolation, Divorce: these are just some of the synonyms for the word Dissociation-
Partition, Disunion, Dis-join: these are some of the synonyms for the word detachment- freedom from prejudice or partiality.
Recently my kid’s mom wrote me and asked for something. She had done something before this that really pissed me off so my first reaction was to begin typing out all the reasons I would never agree to what she asked! NO! Poised to respond in kind, my partner walked into the room and asked, “What’s Up?” After telling her, she said, “Hm, I wonder what you are believing her request means?”
I have come to realize that these invitations are priceless for my inner work. Though my initial reaction to my wife’s invitation was, “Nah, I know what I’m doing so I am going to send this email!”Instead I paused to check inside and see what really was “Up” with me? It was then that I realized I was dissociating- splitting off from my inner feelings and forgetting my intention and my connection to the experience of pure consciousness. In the next instant, my partner offered, “well, if you do write back, you may just want to be honest about what you are feeling and see how that goes.” I love how when we are clear, we can recognize simple directions straight from the divine.That is exactly what I did.
My spiritual path has been a regular immersion into these pairs of opposites- Detachment vs. Dissociation. Nine times out of ten, when I react to something it is a sure sign that I am dissociating- cutting myself off from my own inner feelings and thus my living connection with the unconditional love and security of pure consciousness. It’s not that I deny my feelings, especially powerful ones like anger and grief, but when I react, I re-enact scenarios in my head that caused the dissociation in the first place. I experience detachment as a pause. When I give myself the time to connect to that ocean of compassion that is always flowing through me, I feel clear, calm and connected. With this approach, time and again I realize that I am able to effortlessly bring that love and compassion into my actions; sharing it with everyone, even my kids mom (and in my case, that is really saying something!)
In my twenty years of Coaching and Spiritual Direction with people, I have observed that a lot of us are hesitant to embrace detachment because we are afraid of being perceived as indifferent. You know like, “ I will be seen as uncaring”, or “people walk all over you if you don’t stand up to them!” However it is our natural response to detach from pain before we engage in high stress situations, we just need to remember to do it! Emergency room doctors, therapists and even parents know that some degree of detachment is necessary when we want to be fully present in times of crises. Our task is to learn to take the same approach when dealing with our own inner crises.
First, like an Emergency Room Doctor, when we encounter ourselves in acute stress we can pause and take a breath. Imagine yourself coming upon a car accident, first you would acknowledge the mess and then you would ask for help and assess the damage at hand.Is this an artery cut or superficial wound? In my case, it clearly was superficial and just pausing to accept my wife’s help alerted me to that reality. Another important factor to distinguish between dissociating or detaching is when detaching we seek out the guidance and help of trusted loved ones; when dissociating we go in alone! This is a very important distinction because the more we check our assumptions with others, the faster we learn to catch ourselves before we act out heavy/negative emotions on others. And yes, like the unruly patient, our ego won’t always accept that we are even in an emergency much less accept guidance and advice from people who care for us. That is another “benny” for practicing detachment,we break our ego’s hold on our perceptions- a supreme blessing for any spiritual aspirant.
Secondly, like my partner showing up at the perfect moment to offer her wise question, we can track who and what shows up to help when we are falling into the grip of dissociation. Learning to recognize these God-cidences after the fact strengthens our ability to track them the next time we are faced with a similar situation. Third, we create new neural pathways that will open us to more inner peace in each present moment.In this way we become a conduit or guide for remaining present for others when they get hijacked by their own dissociation patterns.
Dissociation in the face of fear is human. Practicing detachment when this occurs is Divine. Remember, detachment is a win/win for everyone!