How to Detach and Let Go: A Crucial Life Lesson

Sometimes I’m a bad yogi. I let four-letter words fly, and I do things I later regret. Why? Because people can be cruel. They can be savage, brutish, diabolical. They can say unconscionable things, using words as weapons. Just the other day, a lady inquired about the vegetarian options at a local cafe. Some condescending jerkface (no, that’s not a word, but I’ve adopted it) decided he’d chime in and belittle her by saying, “Oh, please. Go hug a tree.”

This infuriated me because I don’t do well with bullies. Yes, I’m normally pretty damn sweet, calm, and unperturbed. I don’t go around making trouble, and I genuinely enjoy people. The cashier’s working slower than dial-up internet? No problem. The waiter got our food wrong and spilled a glass of cold liquid in my lap? It happens. Let me grab a napkin. But when it comes to perceived bullying, I’m suddenly the Thuggish Ruggish Bone (flashback to the 90’s). No, I’m not proud of that. It’s NOT who I want to be.

So before I could consider the man’s statement that day, I spouted off a very inappropriate response, “She should hug a tree? You should kiss an ass!”

Yup, not mature. And if you had the time, I could give you more examples of such outbursts. My teen has warned me that I may get shot one day. That’s a grim possibility. But all this got me thinking…

Why Can’t I Let it Go? 

I would love to not give a damn what people say in crowded cafes when the lines are long and tempers are short. I would love to be unconcerned and unfettered by the insults and vulgarity of others. But so often I’m not. Sometimes it matters and maybe it shouldn’t.

After the incident with the outspoken man, I questioned a yoga group about my reaction, asking how they were able to tolerate such behavior in the world and if they had any advice for me. Some called me courageous and urged me to continue to stand up for what I believed was right. I didn’t care for that response. Because who the hell am I to say what’s right? And while standing up is good, my hate-fueled retort was not. Some yogis told me to practice compassion, to consider how I’d want to be spoken to in future situations and use gentler words to correct an offender– if I must. I didn’t care for that answer either. Because even compassion felt inauthentic.

My goal was to not feel anything — to not give a damn. I did not want to expend any energy (good or bad) on that man. But that’s a fantasy, and every “Never give a damn what anyone thinks” quote is flawed. Because we are human, and as long as we live and breathe, we give a damn. But perhaps we can get to a place of detachment…

The Concept of Detachment 

I’ve been working on detachment, on relinquishing expectations and separating myself from outcomes.  Since much of my suffering comes from my attachment to things, ideas, even pursuits, detachment can be freeing. I want to see the world as it is and refrain from judgement about how I think it ought to be. I want to experience life without the need to control it. I want to feel without being consumed by my feelings, and to live without excessively longing for anything other than that which I have.

This concept of detachment is not new. It’s a central philosophy in Zen Buddhist teaching, which dates back centuries. I’m currently struggling with how I can detach without being indifferent, passive or careless. I know that dropping out of life is not the answer, and emotions don’t cease to exist when you ignore them. So maybe my big mouth isn’t so bad. But it’s my response I need to adjust.

The Best Approach to Bullies with Bad Manners 

Just brainstorming here, but perhaps the best approach to bullies with bad manners is acceptance. I should understand there are people who will engage in cruelty and that their behavior is often just a projection of their own conditioning. In other words, their bad, not mine– no need to take it personally. Why should I be alarmed at their actions? Instead, I should do what I feel is right for its own sake, without getting caught up in anger, swept up in a sense of unfairness or driven by a thirst for revenge. I should let go of the need to teach anyone anything, and simply do what my conscience requires: ask jerkface to use his manners… and then calmly order my coffee.

Mantra: Let go or be dragged ~ Zen Proverb

What are your thoughts? Let’s chat! Leave a comment below.

 

 

28 Comments
  • Kylie
    February 22, 2016

    This was awesome! I struggle with the same feelings, yet I tend to always keep it to myself.
    I always wish my response would be one that would force people to potentially question their actions through love, but of course that’s rarely how I respond. Like in that situation, I would hope that I would turn to the man and say,”Excuse you sir, but you don’t know why she is vegetarian. Maybe she has an allergy to meats. If you have a problem with the way other people eat then maybe you should just cook at home.”
    But, instead I would just stand there silently and roll my eyes.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 22, 2016

      Thank you, Kylie! I think we both need some balance. I need to work on a gentler retort, and you should practice speaking up when the time is right. So we both have some work to do! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  • Indigo Ocean
    February 22, 2016

    I think the issue is more the turmoil you may have with your reaction to someone else’s behavior. There is no thing wrong in itself with saying exactly what you said, but wouldn’t it be great if seeing such behavior made you simply react the way you concluded instead of with anger? That’s the golden objective, because someone does need to speak up against bullying. How else will bullies learn that their behavior is not accepted within their community? Who was it that said that all that evil needs to prosper is for good people to do (and say) nothing?

    It is taking care of you that is the only problem in your initial response. That couldn’t have felt good to you. So he wound up effectively assaulting both you and the other person with just his careless words. Do you think there could have been something in what he said that made you feel threatened? Reacting with anger usually relates to that. Defending others when we don’t feel any personal threat tends to be more clarity and resolve than anger. Have you ever been in a situation where someone belittled your needs and you were unable to speak up for yourself?

    • Rica Lewis
      February 22, 2016

      I wholeheartedly agree with the concept that evil does prosper when “good people do nothing.” That’s a great quote! Also, I think a lot of my anger in such situations relates to the past and my experiences with being bullied and abused by certain men in my life. I’ve gotten to a place where I no longer accept any mistreatment.
      That can mean I sometimes overreact. I want to detach from that and free myself from the pain and emotions that come flooding back when I perceive bully behavior. My goal is to stand up without allowing myself to be “swept up.” Thanks for sharing your insights, Indigo!

  • Ali A
    February 22, 2016

    Wooooof, this is so hard and I’m like you — it’s hard for me to let things go and I’m easily angered, frustrated, impatient, etc. It’s isn’t good to hold onto those feelings though, and I need to be better and detaching, too. It’s not worth adding more stress and negativity to your life — it’s hard enough!

  • Liv
    February 22, 2016

    I’m sure that your response made him reconsider his. Which *might* bring more balance to the planet. Of course, it could be that he’s just a jerkface who will do it again next time too.

  • Corinne Rodrigues
    February 23, 2016

    After years of keeping quiet I’ve finally learned to stand for myself and others and would respond just the way you did. You’ve made me wonder now if that’s the best way to respond though.

    • Rica Lewis
      February 23, 2016

      Glad I gave you something to think about, Corinne. Does your response come from a good place? Or is it fueled by hatred and rage you’re still attached to from the past? Those are questions I’ll be asking myself. Thanks for reading and chatting!

  • Julie
    March 9, 2016

    Rude make me mad so I like that you said something to him. I usually don’t do that. As a comedian, I turn those experiences and interactions into a joke and work out my frustration on stage. I love the idea of detachment and trying to see things through their point of view. This is great reminder that we all can practice tolerance and acceptance. Thanks for sharing this experience and enlightening me.

    • Rica Lewis
      March 9, 2016

      Awesome Julie! Comedy is a great way to vent! Thanks for your kind words.

  • Sandy Mangis
    March 9, 2016

    Way to go. Yes I too find myself in this same spot. I try everyday to be kind and smile, but sometime that is just really hard to do.

    • Rica Lewis
      March 10, 2016

      I agree, sandy. I hope it gets easier wit practice!

  • LisaLDN
    April 28, 2016

    I’m usually awful at speaking up for myself as well, but in most situations, something good will come out of it! Learning to speak up more often is a great lesson, and it’s important to be able to not take everything personally 🙂 Great post!

    • Rica Lewis
      April 28, 2016

      Thank you, Lisa. I think most people swing one way or the other — they have trouble speaking up or they talk too much! I’m trying to find some balance. 🙂

  • cheryl wilson-stewart
    April 28, 2016

    Great post! Makes me realize detachment has become (slightly) easier as I’ve aged. Bonus:)!

    • Rica Lewis
      April 28, 2016

      Absolutely! I’ll take wrinkles over all the junk we carry in our youth! Thanks for reading, Cheryl.

  • Julie
    April 28, 2016

    Hi Rica,
    Awesome post. First off, I’m a longtime yogi so I especially appreciate your blog. In terms of this situation, props to you! There are so many nasty people out there but your heart’s in the right place and you stand up for what you believe in. There will always be bullies but never let that change you 🙂 In the end, they’re the ones that need to be worried!

    • Rica Lewis
      April 28, 2016

      Oh gosh, I so appreciate your kind words, Julie. I love your insight here and I’m so glad to meet you, fellow yogi! Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope to see you back here.

  • Paula
    April 28, 2016

    I love what you said about wanting to feel but not be consumed by your feelings. I struggle with that constantly. Although the older I’m getting the easier it is becoming, although I still work on it. 🙂

    • Rica Lewis
      April 28, 2016

      You’re so right, Paula. It does get easier with age. I told my teen I am so glad those years are over with. It’s incredible when I see the level of stress kids are under and the intense pressure they and their peers assume — all to fit in and be liked. Ugh! No thanks!

  • Anna Palmer
    April 28, 2016

    I know this is a mindful and enlightened post..and still I am laughing at your outburst. It is the best.

    • Rica Lewis
      April 28, 2016

      LOL — always happy to be the butt of a good joke, Anna. Thanks for reading!

  • Jessica
    April 28, 2016

    So good! I am one who ‘mulls’ things over and over after they happen, I need to learn to let go!

    • Rica Lewis
      April 29, 2016

      “Mulling things over” sometimes gives me space to reflect on things. But I have to make sure I don’t dwell on situations. I’m getting better at it! Thanks for commenting, Jessica!

  • Silly Mummy
    May 27, 2016

    Ooh interesting. I sometimes say something in situations like this, though I don’t tend to be one for saying something in a particularly angry way, or abusively – I tend to be more cold. Often I feel angry, but say nothing, as conflict actually makes me nervous. But I do usually feel worse the times I don’t say anything. Because actually I think people should be willing to stand up for each other and what they believe. I do, however, think it is important to also judge the situation and to try and be calm and reasonably polite yourself, because it doesn’t make sense to also be rude, and because it is not helpful to escalate the situation.

    • Rica Lewis
      May 27, 2016

      So true, Silly Mummy. Why make things worse or, as you said, “escalate the situation.” I usually avoid conflict, too, but some things just seem to set me off. I am a work in progress…

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