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On Seeing, Wisdom, and the Value of Non-Detachment

July 9, 2009

“I knew at last that I must leave…get out of the press of affairs…the god does not speak to those who have no time to listen. The mind must seek out what it needs to feed on, and it came to me at last that what work I had to do, I must do among the quiet of my own hills.”  – Merlin in The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

I picked up The Crystal Cave again a few weeks ago after someone mentioned it on an annual retreat I was conducting in Utah, just after my friend’s passing (in fact, he was scheduled to attend.) I read Stewart’s full Merlin trilogy almost twenty years ago, and I thought escaping into its pages was exactly what I needed this summer. But as often happens when we are drawn to certain books, these have ended up being much more than an escape. I am not the same person I was back then, so these are not the same books. Everything Merlin says regarding seeing, finding the flow of life, following power, and finding and owning his role in the larger scheme of things, is resonating very deeply.

So I have been  “among the quiet of my own hills”  – or as quiet as my hills get, with three young children out of preschool for the summer. Retreat is very relative these days! But I had years before children with plenty of solitude, silence, and formal retreats, and I find at this point that I can center myself with much less. Motherhood has taught me efficiency, even in this.

I did find going almost completely offline for a month – once daily email checks only – extremely helpful. I am a strong believer in ‘sabbaths’ and have always stayed offline for one full day each week, and limited my daily number of hours online as well. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, but from an energetic perspective, I don’t think social networking is all that different from the real-life version. Every encounter is an energy exchange. And while I love being online because it is so much easier to find like-minded individuals, and there are so many wonderful people to interact with and learn from, the outward-directed mental energy required to blog, comment, and interact can create a very turbulent mind. It’s easy to lose the ability to be alone with ourselves.

So I am very committed to internal stillness and solitude right now – regardless of external circumstances. Especially since I have been sensing a new direction brewing in my own life, and need to create the space for this to form fully. As Merlin says, seeings like this aren’t something that can be pushed – they have to take their own time surfacing. Interestingly, more unstructured time with the kids, and focusing on the details of some house remodeling we are doing, have proved to be the perfect counterpart to whatever is going on under the surface (who knew paint swatches and tile samples could be so soothing?) And now I do feel  ready to emerge a bit, and get back online. I have missed you all!

As for my friend’s passing, I could write volumes on that, and on him, for he was a very special being. I know we always say that when someone dies, so those of you that didn’t know him will just have to take my word for it. I probably will write more on him at some point, but since I do observe certain Buddhist death rituals, I have been holding a traditional 40-day vigil for him that will end next week, and don’t want to say anything before that.

I did want to share a passage from yet another book that has resonated with me recently – Tsultrim Allione’s Women of Wisdom. I have mentioned this book before, and will probably post on it more next week. I was re-reading it in the days before my friend’s passing, and in fact just hours before I learned of his death was reading a passage that proved to be a guiding light in the subsequent days. Lama Tsultrim Allione was one of the first Western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, and spent four years receiving teachings from some of the most revered Tibetan Lamas, including much time in solitary retreat in Tibet. She decided to give back her vows after four years in order to marry and have a family, and continue her Buddhist studies as a layperson. She is now, with her children grown, herself one of the most revered Lamas teaching in the West today.

After giving back her monastic vows, she had two daughters, and then a few years later, boy/girl twins. At 2 1/2 months, the little girl twin died of SIDS. Coming on the heals of a difficult pregnancy and marriage troubles, her little girl’s death sent her into a deep, dark night of the soul. And she was not helped when at her daughter’s funeral, another Buddhist practitioner came up to her as she was grieving, tears streaking down her face, and said “You should not be so attached to this baby; everything is impermanent.”

Lama Allione talks about the ‘superficial’ understanding of the dharma, or teachings, that drove such a comment. It is something I have seen a lot of in spiritual circles, of all denominations. Whether we say ‘everything is impermanent’, ‘God had a plan’, or ‘it was meant to be’, all too often we use philosophies and theologies to distance ourselves intellectually from the reality of life. This doesn’t mean these views of death aren’t true, but if they are used as a way to avoid the true human emotions of loss, to me they are useless. Wisdom is a union of heart and mind, not a cutting away of one in favor of the other. I am not interested in an enlightenment that says a mother should not cry for her lost baby, or one that prevents an acquaintance from simply holding her when she does.

So, in the aftermath of my friend’s passing, when conducting the retreat he was scheduled to attend, with many who were also mourning him present, I was glad to have read this passage, and glad to have had the reminder of what NOT to do. ‘Spiritual mentor’ is a dicey role, not one I embrace all that comfortably, and I know it is all too easy to fall into posturing – acting the way you think you should act, the way people expect, and parroting the teachings, rather than speaking from the heart. But wisdom can’t be faked, and it does not come just from the intellect.

So I thought for this first post back I would invite you to share your own views on wisdom, and what exactly it is. I look forward to reading your responses!

32 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 9:49 pm

    B R A V O!
    beautifully spoken from a wise woman!
    wisdom cannot be faked and does not come automatically from intelligence, it is as i understand it an active cognitive process. as you mentioned, you are not the same person you were before…my wish is that all beings shared in this process and took the time and moments at hand to embrace our shortcomings and each other just as we are right NOW. much love/compassion to you in your loss.

  2. July 10, 2009 3:08 am

    Welcome back, dear Lisa! I have missed you! I fully appreciate your need for retreat and reconnection to the mysteries within. And … as you said, these online communications are, indeed, strong exchanges of energy. While I find most social networking to be incredibly draining, I am always filled, uplifted, inspired and prodded into deeper thinking by connecting with you here and reading your beautifully written thoughts. I’m so happy you’re back!

    As for wisdom, I think it changes as we change. We can be as authentic as we know how to be, acting in accordance with our deepest truths, and even a week later find ourselves looking back at our own foolishness. Some people do seem more consistently wise. I’d love to know how that feels. 🙂

  3. July 10, 2009 3:08 am

    Welcome back Lisa.

    For me, wisdom is something I connect with deeply. It’s that inner voice, coming out. The thing about that inner voice, though, is that mine tends to get buried amongst the “noise” in my life. And that’s when I too have to retreat to some quiet space. And in those moments, clarity sometimes comes (not always). Through it all, though, wisdom emerges. And I know when it’s there – I can really just feel that connection. Really, to my soul…

    It’s good to see you here again…

  4. July 10, 2009 3:22 am

    Welcome back (hugs) You have been on my mind all this while, and the only reason I didn’t email you or anything was that I wanted to give you the time and space.

    I agree what you say about mourning. Even though we know death is only a transformational process, when we lose a loved one, the feeling of loss is deep and we are best to mourn, rather than denying it intellectually. That is why we have the custom of funerals and mourning periods.

    We have inner wisdom. It is the highest wisdom. However, people often seek wisdom outside. In a sense, it’s much easier to search for a good book or a teacher than sitting quietly to find my own wisdom and truth. I’ve had this tendency and recently decided to be my own best teacher, my own authority. In other words, to embrace my inner wisdom and light. Only when I do this, books can be helpful, I think.

    Love & Light,

  5. July 10, 2009 5:51 am

    This is a beautiful post Lisa… I am sorry about your friend. So interesting how many bloggers have taken breaks lately (myself included). Unplugging is important. My kids are home this summer with limited camps…so it’s up to me to entertain. It has been wonderful…going to the library, picnics on the beach, outings to the park, and having family visit. I too have found time to be quiet…I need that to replenish my spirit (even if it’s only 5 minutes).

    But, I am glad you are back!

    Peace to you…

  6. July 10, 2009 11:49 am

    Good to see you writing again, Lisa. 🙂

    “I am not the same person I was back then, so these are not the same books.” I return to books I have read in the past often and continually find something within them I did not see before. As we age, we see with different eyes and hear with different ears.

    As for wisdom, I have knowledge, I have experience, but I can’t profess to have acquired wisdom. I’ve often contemplated just what wisdom is. Elusive, perhaps. As Gian Carlo Menotti said: “A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance”.

    Looking forward to your future posts.
    Take care.

  7. July 10, 2009 1:54 pm

    Lisa, So glad to have you back. Your retreat time is an inspiration to us all — the depth of listening and then acting on what you needed.

    For me, wisdom is very tied up with action, and I like to say that action is the alchemy by which knowledge becomes wisdom.

    Only when we take what we know and walk it every day are we becoming wise.

  8. July 10, 2009 1:58 pm

    I’m so glad you’re back! The internet just wasn’t the same without you! 😉

  9. July 10, 2009 3:37 pm

    You are so lucky to be able to find some space in June. I had a most challenging time trying to manage everything (with my kids at home too) and in the end, had to post less frequently.

    I like what you said “Every encounter is an energy exchange”. It’s true! Nevertheless, alone time is prizeless!

    My mother-in-law was a Buddhist nun. In a way, she decided to ordain because she wanted to lose her attachments. While it was easy for her to let go a lot of things, family ties were the hardest of all.

    I am not sure what the “official” definition of detachment means but to me, it means not giving power away to things or thoughts of an impermanent nature; such as money. Enlightenment through detachment definitely does not mean that we turn cold or emotionless. The tears that we shed in the passing away of a loved one is an acknowledgment of the love we have in our hearts…in fact, the very experiencing of our Divine Self.

    Most certainly , intellectual knowledge does not equate to wisdom. Wisdom is often gained through experience. It is about becoming harmonious with all of life.

  10. July 10, 2009 4:40 pm

    Welcome back. I (we!) missed you. But I am so glad you took the time you needed to move through this experience. You honored yourself big time! And the lessons…ah, how wonderful.

    Reading this late last night, inspired me to write what I did this morning at my blog. It seems to me so much of our journeys are really about listening–deeply listening–to the quiet, to what shows up in the empty spaces–and how important it is for us to give ourselves those opportunities. Step away from the computer, turn off the television (or give it up altogether, like we did), stop reading the newspaper, and watch how your life shifts and changes.

    You offer a very powerful testimony here of how silence and time away is vital to our journeys. Gasho, my friend, and love to you.

  11. mommymystic permalink*
    July 10, 2009 5:17 pm

    Thank you everyone for your welcome backs. Your comments are exactly what I have missed this past month, and I thank you again for your insights. Here’s my favorite lines from each one, which I think together create a powerful commentary on wisdom:

    Hazel – wisdom “does not come automatically from intelligence, it is as i understand it an active cognitive process…”

    Alexis – wisdom “changes as we change. We can be as authentic as we know how to be, acting in accordance with our deepest truths, and even a week later find ourselves looking back at our own foolishness.”

    Lance – wisdom “is that inner voice, coming out…in those moments, clarity sometimes comes (not always). Through it all, though, wisdom emerges. And I know when it’s there – I can really just feel that connection.”

    Akemi – “We have inner wisdom. It is the highest wisdom. However, people often seek wisdom outside…”

    Caroline – I have found the flow of summer with my kids wonderfully restful too, and conducive to wisdom…

    Dave – “As Gian Carlo Menotti said: “A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance”.”, but Dave I have to say, I do not accept that you do not have wisdom. Your own posts resonate with it for me.

    Blisschick – “…action is the alchemy by which knowledge becomes wisdom.”

    Evelyn – “Wisdom is often gained through experience. It is about becoming harmonious with all of life.”

    Jan – “It seems to me so much of our journeys are really about listening–deeply listening–to the quiet, to what shows up in the empty spaces–and how important it is for us to give ourselves those opportunities.”

    Namaste to you all!

  12. July 11, 2009 9:28 am

    Hi Lisa – I think the critical Buddhist was trying to avoid her own uncomfortable emotions, by bringing up non-attachment. In fact, I think there is a whole lot of crap said about attachment, generally, in spiritual circles. It’s so much easier in an uncomfortable situation to “be detached” than to actually heal oneself of the source of the pain. People who detach continually might just end up detaching themselves from their body! (the suppressed feelings cause cancer etc)

    To me, the concept of detachment is useful for not thinking something means anything about you, or for thinking if you lose a possession or money then you will get it back again if you need it – things like that.

    I’m glad that you got to find some quiet time, LIsa – despite caring for 3 young children! – love from Rob

  13. July 11, 2009 9:11 pm

    “I am not interested in an enlightenment that says a mother should not cry for her lost baby, or one that prevents an acquaintance from simply holding her when she does.”

    Same here. I have to think that the idea of “detachment” in eastern religions was never intended to convey the emotional coldness that this word seems to imply in English. Maybe a bad initial translation by someone??

    But my understanding of what IS meant by detachment isn’t so easy to put into words…

  14. July 13, 2009 12:00 am

    Welcome back, Lisa!

    I think that it was great that you had an opportunity to take this time and be with the people who were also mourning your friend. Feeling things deeply is an important part of being real to ourselves and mourning is most certainly a part of that. If we only take the happy and perky part of ourselves and ignore the sad and angry part of ourselves, we are only half a person. A tricky thing but I think that seeing the beauty of pain and loss is a good thing.

    Happy to have you back!

  15. July 13, 2009 4:06 pm

    In solitude and silence, I have found my deepest answers from within rather than from the outside, so I appreciate your own experience here. I also want to share that feeling everything to the extent that we can allow ourselves is so healing. For me, Buddhist teachings are not meant to taken literally like a one size fits all outfit. It is important to see what feels true for me. Only then am I able to really understand the Buddha’s teachings.

    Allione’s grieving was so normal and natural. No teaching in the world can dam a mother’s grief. Thank you for sharing this. I think it helps us to know that the eightfold path is very different for each of us, though we all suffer.

    May you continue to share your experience, and may it continue to open each of us to the wisdom within ourselves.

  16. mommymystic permalink*
    July 13, 2009 4:34 pm

    Robin, I agree, I do think it is easy to mis-use the idea of detachment as a way of avoiding certain emotions. And in fact often we need to face and move through difficult emotions to grow, rather than avoid them. I think detachment can be useful in that context, to truly understand what we feel more truly. Thanks for visiting!

    Paul – I also wonder if it is a problem with translation. I know some teacher’s use equanimity instead, which has a very different feel to it. I think detachment is meant to be more of a tool, and a method for acceptance rather than repression, but it’s a tough call. As you say, tough to put into words. Thanks-

    Amy, yes, the beauty of pain and loss indeed. I think we need to go through that to find wisdom.

    Kaveri – I think your point is very important too, finding the way the teachings, Buddhist or any other, personally resonate with us and our path. It is so easy to parrot or get caught up in other’s understanding, and get off track. I know I have been there. Thanks for sharing-

  17. July 13, 2009 6:40 pm

    So good to have you back. Missed seeing your blog updated with goodness.

    “Wisdom is a union of heart and mind, not a cutting away of one in favor of the other.”
    Oh yes! I agree. I also dislike the tendency for some religions/philosophies to ascetic cutting away.

    Hmmm, wisdom…. my formula:
    (knowledge + experience) + (fluidity + peace) + (10 x humility) / humour.


  18. mommymystic permalink*
    July 14, 2009 1:20 am

    Mon – your formula is excellent! Humor has been sorely missing in my life recently, thanks for the reminder, XOXO

  19. July 14, 2009 8:05 am

    Welcome back! I’m just catching up…

    Sounds like you’ve had a good, and hopefully peaceful hiatus from blogging.

    I heartily agree with what you say concerning the mis-use of attachment. Sure, everything is impermanent, but I think we lose so much when we distance ourselves from our emotions and from the emotions of others. Particularly compassion, and active rather than theoretical compassion. Avoidance as detachment is to me usually a symptom of emotional/psychological damage rather than an evolved spirituality.
    It’s a bit like “pollyanna syndrome” (which is a bit rampant in the New Age movement) where everything is happy-happy-joy-joy and there is a terror and repulsion for anything construed as “negativity” for we must be constantly “blissed-out baby”.

    It requires of us a certain amount of emotional courage and empathy to move through and experience difficult confronting emotions and grief.

    And I feel the same way you do about having a weekly ‘sabbath’ where I am not on the computer. It is a constant energy exchange – both the interwebs and real-time connections. Stillness is vital.

  20. mommymystic permalink*
    July 14, 2009 3:28 pm

    DW – I am glad you mentioned the Pollyanna syndrome, I know exactly what you mean, and it really drives me nuts here in Los Angeles. I always feel a bit like a spiritual curmudgeon when I think this. To be fair, there are honestly some people that are just naturally positive, with few dark emotions in their attention. And I do recognize the power of positive thinking, law of attraction etc, in many areas of life. But I do think that it can become repressive if used the wrong way, a tool of denial. Thanks for commenting!

  21. Kenny permalink
    July 15, 2009 7:58 am

    Hi my name is kenny and i really like your site,its has a lot of interesting articles,i pratice energy work,and meditation im not a mother or a woman,but im very open so i believe it wont matter i think if its all cool,id like to read this site more often,looking forward to see what you come up with,you sound like someone i trust,and being a awakened girl,and a mother,i believe you have a very unique view on things,one im not used too,could be interesting….but anyway to me Wisdom is an ability, the ability to use the logical mind and the intuitive mind,and wisdom is the weigher of balance between them, to weigh pro’s and con’s based of the odds,the benifits,and the risks. I believe Wisdom takes place in the soul,our ability to feel,the spirit is absolute,the body is carnal,and the soul is wise(the human factor, if you ask me)

  22. Kenny permalink
    July 15, 2009 8:08 am

    I think denial and positive power, are two ways of looking at the same answer,its only denial,if you accept it,when you deny the power of positive vibes…this is a good question,one im sure we all personally struggled with,but my heart doesnt tell me to deny,it tells me to overcome(with love)….that or im scitzoophrenic,add,ocd,bi polar,labels…all of them…people fear what they dont understand.

  23. Kenny permalink
    July 15, 2009 8:18 am

    I remember going through this so called “detachment”,(bout 2 months ago),and before i was unbalanced,and ungrounded,my new found spirituality had me in a blissful denial….but life will shake you out of that,i think it is coldheartedness, maybe cause im a guy i say this,but i think it takes a harminous balance,nature and nurture,girl and boy,open and closed,accepting and denying,dont forget the infinity of consciousness and the ability to take and leave what you want(reffering to qualities of self,not physical responsibility),to step outside of the yourself again and agian if necessary…im a gemini,air sign,but thats why i believe in moderation in all things,niether too much nor too little…sorry,i ramble,alot…hope i helped,it helped me

  24. mommymystic permalink*
    July 15, 2009 1:50 pm

    Kenny, thanks for your comments,and for visiting. I like what you said about a balance between nature and nurture, girl and boy, open and closed, accepting and denying, etc. I have always liked the metaphor of the razor’s edge for the spiritual path – balancing on a very thin line between polarities. That the idea isn’t to exclude one or the other side of any human experience, but to walk the fine line between them, sometimes swinging more to one side, sometimes to the other. Namaste-

  25. July 16, 2009 11:40 pm

    What an amazing post. I learned a lot about you and from you. As it is my first time here I will not get too personal with my feelings but thank you. I will be back.

  26. Anonymous permalink
    July 17, 2009 4:16 pm

    Hi Lisa

    I’m not big on attachments of any kind other than my children. I don’t subscribe to any blogs. I’ve never clicked on an RSS button. I visit sites that come to mind, and yours came to mind today.

    I’m glad to find that you are busy with children, home improvements, a spiritual retreat, reading, and writing this recent post. I enjoy the wisdom and clarity in your writing. I think one often overlooked source of wisdom is our children. They can teach us much if we take the time to listen. I know it’s a lot, what you’re doing right now, but it’s so worth the effort. Hope this little bit of comment love makes you smile inside.

  27. July 17, 2009 4:19 pm

    oops…Anonymous above is silly me!

  28. July 20, 2009 8:24 am

    No matter what it is that seems to be going on – sabbaths, strong emotion, detachment, losing a baby, being reborn in redemtion – the goal is always met; being, life, whatever you care to call it, only requires being, whatever the flavour.

  29. July 20, 2009 8:24 am

    Redemption. Sorry.

  30. mommymystic permalink*
    July 20, 2009 4:56 pm

    Michelle, Brenda and Suzanne – thanks to all of you for your comments. I know from your own blogs that you are all women of depth and appreciate having you comment here. – Lisa

  31. August 3, 2009 9:40 pm

    Detachment, like surrender, is a tough concept. As you say so well, “Wisdom is a union of heart and mind” the true yoga. In my interpretation, detachment is not the purposeful suppression of compassion or sorrow. It is detachment from the ego’s drama. In my experience, when we can detach from the ego’s stories, feelings and emotions become even more vibrant, of a greater range, because we are no longer afraid.


  32. mommymystic permalink*
    August 4, 2009 4:53 am

    Kaushik – yes, ‘detachment from the ego’s drama’, and becoming ‘even more vibrant’. I like that!

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