Detachment is widely considered a psychologically and spiritually healthy practice. But for many people in Western society, it is difficult to get into the habit as we are constantly bombarded with messages of things we should accumulate in our lives, including our home, car, personal possessions, relationships, accomplishments, experiences and overall lifestyles.
Being a martial artist has helped me learn to practice detachment, which has in turn made me a better martial artist over the long term. This has also extended into other areas of my life, giving me a happier, healthier existence. Below are 5 tips that have helped me in my practice of detachment and some resulting benefits of that practice.
1. Appreciate Absence
Ever notice that when you do a lot of something you don’t appreciate it as much? If you go out for lunch every day, it is no longer a special treat. It is your habituated lifestyle. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and helps us to appreciate things more when we do have them. Enjoy the process of looking forward to something. Sometimes the anticipation of something can be as much fun as the real thing. Let’s revisit the example of going out for lunch. Instead of going out every day, go out once a week or every other week. Spend time choosing a special place you really like, or one you’ve never been to before. Make a plan to meet a friend who works nearby or connect with a co-worker. If you go out for lunch every day, you often end up going to the same old places out of habit, simply because you don’t have the time or inclination to make it special.
2. Exercise Your Creativity
We often expect a certain lifestyle based on our past experiences or messages we see in the media, but sometimes it is not practical based on our personal finances. This is what has brought on the modern credit crisis. People spend far beyond their means, living pay check to pay check, paying massive interest to maintain maxed out credit cards. What many people don’t realize is that they can live well without necessarily having to spend what companies tell us we have to spend.
Children can be entertained with the simplest things, even preferring them. They often end up enjoying the box a toy came in more than the toy itself thanks to their wonderfully creative minds. I kept this in mind when making plans for my new kids martial arts classes in Vancouver/Richmond BC. Instead of buying expensive foam swords for interactive games, I chose to buy pool noodles at the end of the summer season at $0.50/noodle. These can be cut up and used in similar ways and it makes no difference to the kids as long as they are enjoying themselves. Find creative solutions in your life that help you save money. Go for a picnic instead of going to a restaurant. Shop for things people buy on impulse on Craigslist; you’ll find tons of barely used items at a fraction of the cost, including exercise/sporting equipment, specialty kitchen tools, furniture, and more. Re-purposing or “upcycling” old items is becoming common practice too, especially for eco-conscious individuals. You’ll find many fun ideas on upcycling blogs like this one.
3. Find the Up-side or Humour in a Situation
When you lose something or an item you own breaks, our gut reaction that we are socially conditioned to have in Western society is one of irritation, anger or disappointment. While it can be hard to do, it is much easier to cope with loss if we can see the up-side or humour in the experience. I recently moved into a new location for my martial arts school. We spent a lot of money, time and effort to make the place special. Within the first couple of weeks of training there, we had a couple of incidents. One of my students managed to cut 2 of my expensive mats during a sword course. Of course, I experienced a flash of irritation when this happened, but quickly replaced this with relief that it was only mats and not his foot. A week or so later, a guest student from a local Aikido school managed to put his rear end through one of our walls during a warm-up game. The guy felt so bad and was so apologetic, I just wanted to lighten up the situation by making ironic jokes about how those macho Aikido guys are always “throwing their weight around.” We even made further light of the situation by taking a joke photo, as seen here on the right.
4. See the Bigger Picture
Sometimes we have to make sacrifices to have things that are more important to us. Making the decision to upgrade to a bigger location for our martial arts school was a tough one to make. We knew we would have to spend a lot of money just to make the move, and that it would take time before our client base would grow to the point where would be making the same amount of money at our previous location that was smaller but significantly cheaper on rent. To make ends meet, we had to accept that we needed to make sacrifices in our lifestyle in the short-term so that we could have a better martial arts school, which will allow us to attract more students so we can finally have a lifestyle in which our dojo is our only focus. At first it seemed hard, but when we focused on the fact that we’re doing what we love, it became an easier pill to swallow. We’ve escaped the stream of full-time office jobs that are devoid of personal meaning and are now more focused on giving back to the world through our passions. If that’s not “living the good life”, I don’t know what is.
5. Live Presently
Western society is very future-oriented. The media is constantly telling us about all the things we’re “missing”, things we should be striving to own, relationships we should be striving to be in, lifestyles we should be striving to achieve. Our present moments become clogged with feelings of yearning for what we don’t have, dissatisfaction of our present circumstances, and worry over things that may never happen. One of the best things we can do to enjoy life more is to live in the present moment and appreciate all it has to offer. Go back to your 5 senses. Take a deep breath and use them to experience your surroundings.
- Look around you and appreciate what you see, whether it’s the art on your wall, the scenery outside your window, or the wallpaper on your computer desktop.
- Hear and appreciate the sounds of your environment, whether it’s the birds chirping outside, music you have playing in the background or even the calming white noise of a heater or fan.
- Feel and appreciate items in your immediate space, whether its the way the keys feel on your keyboard, the comfort of your chair or the way your clothes hang on your body.
- Appreciate the ambient smells, like that of freshly brewed coffee or the scented lotion you rubbed on you hands.
- When you eat or drink anything, taste the fullness of the flavours. Enjoy the experience, whether you snacking on some almonds or eating last night’s leftovers. Avoid eating while you work or when on the run. It dulls the senses and can even make you eat more than necessary because of your lack of focus.
As a martial artist, I’ve come to learn that it is more important to appreciate my practice and to be fully present while I train, rather than getting overly analytical about details or overly consumed with thoughts of progression. When you train for training’s sake and simply enjoy the process, the rest comes.
The capitalist drive of modern Western society can make detachment a greater challenge for all the people that live within it, but it is possible to practice it if you make a conscious effort and develop the habit. I realize that this humble article only begins to scratch the surface of the concept of detachment and ways to live it. I welcome any further suggestions you may have or the sharing of your personal experiences in the comments.