This from Gerald May’s book Addiction and Grace:

Detachment is the word used in spiritual traditions to describe freedom of desire. Not freedom from desire, but freedom of desire . . . An authentic spiritual understanding of detachment devalues neither desire nor the objects of desire. Instead, it “aims at correcting one’s own anxious grasping in order to free oneself for committed relationship to God.” According to Meister Eckhart, detachment “enkindles the heart, awakens the spirit, stimulates our longings, and shows us where God is.”

There is more I could say, but I couldn’t do it as eloquently. So I’ll just end with a question. So much of the time, my default is more: more hard work, more devotion, more faithfulness, more close adherence. My friend Ty (that is the famous Mr. Ty Ray Mansfield to the rest of you) makes this point in his part of the book In Quiet Desperation when he talks about Lehi’s vision in 1 Nephi 8, there are different sets of people who are using the iron rod to try to get to the Tree of Life:

  • The first collection group is described in verse 21 as “pressing forward”, but they aren’t described as holding to the rod at all. They don’t get very far before they wander off.
  • The second group is described in verse 24 as “clinging” to the rod. And they make it to the tree, and partake of the fruit. However, this group is shamed by the Beau Monde in the Great and Spacious Building into falling away into “forbidden paths”.

It is the last group who are described in verse 30 as “catching hold” and then “holding fast” to the rod of iron. To me, it doesn’t sound quite as desperate as the second group, or as half-hearted as the first group.

Is there a way I can “hold fast” while not (as Eckhart puts it) “anxiously grasping”?

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  1. avatar

    I find this similar to riding a bicycle. Unless you master balancing, you keep falling either left or right. And balancing is a matter of constant alertness, as well as willingness to pick up yourself after falling.

    It is not that the first group held on half-heartedly and the other held it with too tight of a grip. It is just that they were impatient or lazy enough for constant adjustment of their grip with proper consideration and readiness.

    Yes, there is just right strength of the embrace of the iron rod all along the way, but we are weak and imperfect and need to constantly compensate.

  2. avatar

    Ty Ray

    I love the idea of attachment and that, on some level, the less attached we are the more we are free to choose and to love. In some strains of Taoist thought, you can’t truly love if you are attached because there is too much of the self in how one views and relates to the object/person to which he or she is attached. And for whatever application here, in Buddhist thought there is a different between detachment and non-attachment, the latter being preferable because of the implication of lack of attachment as opposed to disconnection.

    With regard to the the thoughts here, my own sense is that the more we need something, the more we desperate we feel in our reaching out for it, the relationships to it is problematic because there is too much of us in our yearning. It’s more about us than it is about the object of our reaching. In dating relationships, the dangerous aspect of the honeymoon phase is that we think we’re in love with a person but more like we’re simply in a phase of relational fantasy and euphoria in which we are caught up less in the person than how relationship with them “makes” us feel. We are victims rather than agents, and victims can’t love because they cannot own their love—their feeling is conditioned upon something external to them “making” them feel what they feel.

    True love and true faith are about choice. The energy of “taking hold” speaks of an agent making a choice to reach for something he or she internally desires. Any effort at growth or progress stemming from desire is much more sustainable than one stemming from need or desperation because as soon as I stop needing then I stop growing. It’s like shame, which can never motivate long-term, sustainable change. It can motivate short-term change but if change is to be sustained our motivation must move from shame or pressure to internal, positively-oriented desire. Faith, the choice to believe and trust in God, must come from desire rather than shame or pressure if it is to be truly salvific.

  3. avatar

    Greg B

    For me “anxiously grasping” implies a level of uncertainty. Ephesians 4:13-15 has a similar feeling I think:

    “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
    That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
    But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ”

    When we have a firm testimony I think there is a constant desire to more, but we can also recognize that God doesn’t want us to do more than we can. We can press forward with hope, and with confidence in what we’re doing. To me that’s the biggest difference between the first two groups and the last group – confidence in the end goal despite the work environment.