How Can You Be Detached and Not Appear Careless?

man hands holding woman hand from both sides. Compassion and 
concern concept

Implicit in this question is the assumption that if you try practicing detachment, there is a risk you might appear as if you don’t care.

If that assumption was not there, the question would not make sense. You feel that if you were to appear detached, you would also appear careless. And it is common sense that it is not good to appear careless.

Is this really true? Is there a possibility of you appearing as a careless person if you practice detachment?

I would argue, it is not true. You can still be caring and have concerns while being detached. Detachment doesn’t preclude care or concern. It just means lack of impulsive craving.

How Others Perceive Is Not Up to You

There can be a perception that when you practice detachment, you are being careless. Now, what others perceive, is something you cannot fully control.

No matter what kind of intentions you have, you might still be perceived in a wrong way. People make mistakes.

How people perceive things is not that straight forward. You might have the best intentions and still you can be perceived as otherwise.

This is something you should keep at the back of our mind. What is really important is the intention. And not the perception.

The perception could be a source of confusion. The intention cannot be a source of confusion.

In intending, you exert your own agency. You are not relying on any external factors. There are clear possibilities that you can choose from when it comes to bearing an intention in your mind.

Why Would You Want to Be Detached?

Coming back to the original question again. It might be helpful investigating why one would practice detachment?

The traditional wisdom is that attachment can be a source of suffering, a source of problems.

Many traditions proclaim that the attachment is the ultimate source of all your problems. And If you free yourself from attachment, you will not have problems.

You have experienced this first hand. You easily get attached to people, pets, animals, and objects.

And when the person you are attached to is no more around you suffer. When the pet or animal you are attached to is no more around you suffer.

Your prized possession, the things that you are attached to, your car, your expensive jewelry, your expensive goggles or even your hot shower, if you lose them or if they break, you suffer.

It is the very definition of attachment, the absence of the object of attachment causes you to suffer.

The attachment means you cling to the object and you crave for the object.You crave, that object or that person when it is not around. And you cling when it is around.

In almost a reactive and compulsive manner.  You automatically do that.

It is highly likely that you don’t realize this craving and clinging. You tend not to have the awareness of your behavior.

Attachment As an Evolutionary Adaptation

Pretty much all normal human beings experience attachment when you are born. Your caretakers are an initial source of attachment.

Because in order to grow, a child has to be able to explore the world. She has to be able to venture out, experiment, take risks, make mistakes and learn from that.

But more importantly, she needs a stable base to fall back to. The world is a frightening place. You need a stable base or a stable shelter to fall back to repeatedly as you embark upon the journey of growing up.

That stable base is essential, without which you cannot do the necessary work. The attachment with your caregiver, mainly the mom, provides that firm support and enables the necessary exploration.

Attachment serves this very important purpose.  Without the attachment, it is difficult for a child to grow normally.

People who don’t have that strong base, kids who are not attached while growing up, tend to have developmental problems.

They develop emotional difficulties. They don’t learn well and don’t grow normally. Luckily you are already programmed in a way where you practice attachment involuntarily.

It is the emotional brain which causes you to get attached. And the emotional brain is the most powerful and influential part of the human brain. It trumps the rational or thinking brain.

Attachment is irrational. There is no logic to attachment. When you lose the person you are attached or when you don’t have access to the object that you are attached, no amount of logic or reasoning can convince you or soothe you.

And, how often you get attached, to whom you get attached, is not so much in your control. It just happens at times.

You fall in love with people, your pets or your belongings. As long as there are people, animals, and objects around you, it is very likely that you will get attached.

This also means it is given that you will suffer. Because people you get attached will not always be around.

People move on, they die. You might be attached to someone but they might not want to be with you.

Things break. All of that can happen. That way, you set yourself up for problems.

And that is why you seek detachment. Because you don’t want to suffer. You want to minimize suffering.

But detachment may not be that easy. As I said earlier, by design your brain lends itself to attachment. Detachment is not easy but not impossible either. And it can be learned.

Does Attachment Guarantee Care?

And despite the strength of the bond in attachment, it actually doesn’t guarantee care. It can motivate you to care for the object that you are attached.

What it guarantees is craving and clinging and not care. It is your illusion that attachment means care but that is not necessarily always true.

If you look at the bond between the mother and the child, the mother’s attachment almost guarantees care. She deeply cares for the baby. But many times the opposite is not true.

The baby also attaches to the mother. And the baby doesn’t want to leave the mom, for the baby, it might easily become an obsession.

The baby may not care about the mom. the baby just wants mom to be around. That could drive a mom crazy.

This often happens in relationships. You fall in love, you get attached to the person.

You get so blinded by that craving and clinging that you may end up not caring much for the other person. All you care for is the presence of the object, the presence of the person.

You can easily become obsessive and may even end up harming the object of your attachment. That is the nature of that emotional state.

When you crave for the person, no matter how many times you think what you are doing is silly, you still want the other person to be with you. You will drag yourself and will engage in unreasonable scheming to be with that person.

If your objective is to reduce suffering you should seek out ways to get rid of craving and clinging.

Detachment as Stopping the Craving and Clinging

Perhaps that is what you mean by detachment. That is stopping the craving and clinging.

As you can see, in reality, detachment has not that much to do with care directly. But you end up posing the question,  because of a falsely perpetuated societal notion that one cannot be caring enough if one is not attached.

You can work towards getting familiar with your innate urge to crave the connection or the presence of another person. And you can also work towards taming that urge.

Once you get to a point where that emotion doesn’t hijack you, you can become genuinely caring and concerning for others. And that will minimize the suffering for you.

And this work is no easy task. You are up against the evolutionary forces fine-tuned over millions of years. It is the training of the emotional brain.

The emotional brain is in much more control than you realize. It is extremely difficult to work with it. And that is where the meditation practices can help.

Through a rigorous mind training, you can overcome craving and clinging. And without affecting your capacity to care for.

Detachment or Letting Go?

This is also about learning to let go or, at least, letting it be. When you cling and crave you cannot let go. When you learn to not cling, you are learning to let go.

When you are able to genuinely let go, you don’t suffer. You can still have the concern and you can be caring for the person.

But whenever the slightest need arises, you are able to easily let go. In the attachment, there will always be a time, when you can use letting go.

If you are able to let go, you won’t require the presence of your object of attachment. But this can go against very fundamental human nature.

Take death for example. You just can’t accept the death of loved ones. Death is the ultimate test of your attachment.

It is one of the most difficult things to let go, that permanent severance of the connection. The strongest of the evolutionary forces incentivise you to postpone death as much as you can.

And hence the selection and the to date survival of the species.

The Nuanced Meaning of Care

As if all of this were not enough, caring itself is not so black and white. Caring itself has a range of meanings.

Martha Beck reminds us that caring can also mean sorrow as in ‘bowed down with cares’, anxiety as in ‘Careful!’ or an investment in an outcome as in ‘who cares’.

It is yet another instance of your experience which invites you to not take things for granted. An inquiry into what it really means to you when you ‘care’ could be extremely helpful.

The ideal for care and concern is the unconditional love. When you care for other, the ego, the separate self, can put conditions and ties strings around care.

You may then expects something in return, and when the expectation is not met, you may again suffer.

These are several mechanisms through which the emotional mind, subconsciously creates a framework, where it continues pushing its own agenda without regard to how you feel along the journey.

Beyond Care and Concern

All of the schemings of the emotional brain are not necessarily bleak. As they say, in your mind there are two wolves. There is a bad one and a good one.

You also feel immense empathy and compassion from time to time. If you are walking on a street and if you were to meet a person who just had an accident, you viscerally feel the compassion and would care for him.

You act out of concern all the time.

But by design, the bad wolf may be more prevalent. But you can learn to feed the good wolf. When it comes to positive emotions like kindness and compassion, you are limited by your genes. Those are the emotion that can be further cultivated and you can get better at expressing them.

The key is to use awareness to first realize the drama. What is really going on. When it comes to your relationships to people and things around you, where do you stand?

Are you just reactively and habitually driven by subconscious urges and emotions? Or you are aware of them. And awareness may not extinguish those urges, but it is a good start.

You can train to firmly establish awareness of your minds reactions. And at the same time, you can work on cultivating positive qualities.

Not appearing careless is a noble goal in itself, but you can aspire to do much more than that.

Summary

Detachment doesn’t preclude care or concern.

Attachment is suffering.

The motivation for detachment is the end of suffering.

Detachment can be extremely difficult to practice but not impossible.

Caring could also be a disguise for sorrow, anxiety or selfish agenda.

You can become more caring, or you can learn to love unconditionally.

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