Nonattachment is Not Spiritual Botox
Realization means more expressivity, not less
Nonattachment is fresh and lively
Nonattachment is very often misunderstood. I’m gauging this by how some people try to display nonattachment by never moving their facial muscles or showing emotion.
Nonattachment is not the botox of spiritual life.
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It does not refer to a condition of emotional blandness, coldness or lack of caring. Neither is it an affected stance of nonchalance or impassivity.
Nonattachment means you are free to respond in a less conditioned way no matter what happens because you see the real nature of circumstances.
People experiencing nonattachment are more expressive not less.
If I am conditioned, a.k.a. bound by karmic patterning, I respond in rote and repetitive ways. For instance, if I am conditioned to experience fear of rejection, even before I meet someone for the first time, I am already anxious that they won’t like me. Even if they do like me and are welcoming, I might project that they are rejecting me and be convinced of that.
This is called karmic realm vision. I see and feel things according to a more or less stuck view I have of circumstances.
Karmic patterning causes us to respond in certain ways and not others regardless of what is actually happening. We are not free.
One time a student came to teachings and parked in front of a neighbor’s driveway. Teachings went on for a few hours. When the student came out to get into her car, she discovered it had been towed. The student went into a paroxysm of outrage. She couldn’t stop exclaiming how “unfair” the neighbor with the blocked driveway had been to her. This student was in the grip of karmic realm vision. She felt habitually persecuted. A concept of the unfairness of life was tormenting her. But these intense feelings had nothing to do with the real circumstance which was that she had parked illegally.
On the other hand, if I am less conditioned, I have a much larger range of expressive possibilities, and I can be more skillful in responding because of that.
Here’s a handy diagram.
Maybe you already understand that life has ups and downs and that the unevenness of life is normal and fine.
Sometimes you will work hard and not get the desired outcome. Sometimes people will do things that you experience as hurtful. You will inevitably fall ill and experience loss. Violence and greed and neglect will keep happening in the world.
In the midst of these occurrences, you may feel disappointed or sad or scared or angry, but you understand that unpleasant and even horrible things happen. Your emotional energy and mind are not tied up struggling with concepts about what should or shouldn’t be. You can be more skillful. You can work with what is in clear-eyed, practical, and creative ways. Approaching life in this way is an expression of relative nonattachment.
On a more absolute level, nonattachment means you have embodied the direct perception that all outcomes and circumstances enjoy a special kind of equality. You feel equanimitous and even playful in the face of lifes ups and downs because you know directly what is really happening.
Doing spiritual practices, you can discover for yourself that all beings, all circumstances, and all outcomes are made by, made of, and made within a single, continuous, alive-aware subjectivity. We call this by many names: Shiva nature, Buddha nature, Krishna consciousness, nature of mind, living presence, your real nature, or the natural state.
In my tradition, Trika Shaivism, Shiva is the player, the played, the act of playing, and the result. Every outcome is equal because only one, continuous consciousness is enacting all of this within itself like a cosmic-sized drama.
For instance, a person acting in a soap opera does not feel that a storyline of betrayal is better than that of a wedding. These are common occurrences in soap operas! The actor knows that these are equally scenes in a drama.
Just so, Shiva nature is creating every possible experience of its own creativity through infinite storylines throughout all of existence. From the perspective of a more realized person, all circumstances and beings partake in this ontologicalequality even as everything also embodies wild diversity.
Equality and emotions
Resting in one’s real nature, there is a spontaneous and relaxed display of emotions. These more enlightened forms of emotion arise and subside naturally and appropriately. They flow like a river, never sticking around long enough to become habit patterns.
Or you could say that emotions become like a cosmic tasting banquet. You enjoy the infinitely nuanced flavors.
Being immersed in presence, one is also immersed in natural devotion and compassion. There is not one hint of coldness or uncaring. Nor is there any concept of “being compassionate” or “cultivating compassion.” The wisdom virtues of compassion and devotion manifest with total spontaneity as these virtues are what compose Reality itself.
More realized human beings are enormously expressive, caring, emotionally nuanced, and full of laughter and playfulness.
Blah and buzzed on the way to waking up
Ordinary habitual emotional patterns are effortfully whipped-up dramas. They are dramas in which the actors have forgotten they are acting! They arise from a nearly constant state of attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain.
You want this. You don’t want that. You are afraid to lose people, places, things, and arrangements. You live in a push-pull frenzy, trying to control what comes, what goes, what stays, and what never arrives. This approach to life is fundamentally fearful and manipulative.
When we begin to do regular spiritual practice, our conduct and energy begin to recalibrate. We come more into tune with the natural state. An unfamiliar feeling of neutrality arises.
Blahness is a unique expression of this process. All along, we had been cultivating an artificial feeling of aliveness with all of our exaggerated emotions and reactions. When we begin to relax that effort, we first feel tired and perhaps a bit blah. Then we begin to notice the real quality of our energy when we aren’t doing anything to manipulate it or project it forcefully outward.
When you are in the process of recovering your natural relationship to life, you can also feel as if you are crawling with energy. Or you may feel that you don’t know what to do with your energy. You are bursting to do something, but your usual outlets are no longer so appealing. Energy that had been bound is returning to its more free state.
If you keep going, you will begin to experience a beautiful quality of spaciousness and relaxation. You begin to feel a liveliness that is more pervasive, more articulated, and more subtle than you had known previously. There is no more need for drama or “acting spiritual.” You come home to the full and free play of natural expression.
with infinite love,
Ontological: related to the nature of being