A concern often expressed by my clients is, “In my efforts to be more present, will I become more aloof or appear uncaring as I become less identified with events and people affecting my life?” This is a common misconception, and the answer is quite simply, “No.” What my clients are referring to is “detachment.”
If you are not living in the present your normal state is one of attachment or identification. Meaning, in any given moment your ego or mind is attached or identified with an emotion, thought, person, event, etc. This attachment keeps you in the past or the future and not in the present moment. If you were to stop and observe your thoughts, you would see that your mind and ego are like a pinball in a pinball machine, bouncing off the bumpers haphazardly without any clear intention. For most individuals, this is their normal state of consciousness—haphazardly moving from one identification or attachment to the next without self-awareness or presence.
When you engage the Now, you enter into a state of calm detachment and objectivity. Being detached does not mean that you are uncaring. It means that you don’t react negatively or lose energy to stimuli and things affecting you. In other words, detachment means you retain your state of presence and internal peacefulness amidst the whirlwind of activities and emotions of those around you.
Most of your suffering is self-inflicted and unnecessary as it is due to the ego being identified or attached. The ego takes everything personally, almost always reacts negatively, and expends a great deal of energy in the process.
For example, say you are driving and the person behind you is impatiently riding your bumper. You are going the speed limit, but that is not fast enough for the driver behind you who, when you look in the rear view mirror is obviously annoyed you aren’t going faster. You can’t change lanes because someone else is in the lane beside you. So, you speed up to create space so that the person in a hurry can access the other lane and pass you.
The ego’s first reaction is to take offense, yell at the other driver to slow down, maybe even make an obscene gesture at them as they pass you. Your blood pressure has increased and you are irritated. Maybe you fantasize about the other driver getting a speeding ticket or worse.
In a brief amount of time, you have allowed another person or event to completely consume a few minutes of your life and make you negative. Time that you can’t get back; time wasted because your ego took it as a personal attack.
If you were present while driving, you would have encountered the driver with detachment. You would have noticed that he was in a hurry and you were inhibiting him. Instead of taking it personally and becoming negative, you would realize that you were not the problem, and that this person may have a very good reason for being in a hurry. You do what is necessary to let him pass you. You would then continue driving without having lost any energy at all and still remain present.
Detachment is non-identification. It means not taking things personally. It often requires that you put yourself in another’s persons shoes, to see the world through their eyes. To be detached requires that you be compassionate, that you have an understanding of the human condition. Practicing detachment will make it easier for you to be present and remain in the present.