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This week one of my clients reversed direction on a project I’ve worked on for a few months. As a result, I’ll have to discard all of my work to-date, no longer needed. Its final destiny—an electronic recycling bin, its digital life ended even before it began.
If it seems I’m attributing a life force to something I designed – well, I suspect I’m not alone in doing this. The creative process itself involves engaging with what we create, whether that be ideas, words, images, sounds or objects.
Lacking the satisfaction of seeing my work produce tangible results, I realize that I do receive some subtle benefits. Surely no sincere effort ever goes to waste. For example, the project itself was the outcome of consultation between the client and me. Although the end product did not bear fruit, I gained knowledge through the experience of pulling together information and resources. What I learned from this project will likely be useful in another one.
On a higher level, I see all of this as an opportunity to further develop the personal and spiritual quality of detachment. Detachment helps me understand that the outcome, from my limited perspective, doesn’t always go my way. Within this context, detachment means owning things without being possessed by them; being creative without being dependent on praise from others; serving without any expectation of acknowledgement; being generous without demanding reciprocity.
In exploring the meaning of detachment, it seems just as important to consider what it is not: denial. For a Baha’i, detachment doesn’t mean denying yourself the pleasures and joys of this existence. On the contrary, the Baha’i Faith recognizes the beauty of our world and the desirability of living comfortably within it. With moderation as a guideline, the Baha’i teachings encourage us to fully and joyfully participate in life–through its people, places, work and culture.
This beautiful quotation from Baha’u’llah helps me grow toward detachment:
I am a captive; rid me of my bondage, by the power of Thy might and through the force of Thy will, that I may soar on the wings of detachment towards the loftiest summits of Thy creation. – Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 103.
Meditating on this passage, I realize that being overly attached to anything puts me in a state of bondage. This is true whether it be physical objects, abstract ideas, or even my own ego. Rather than being uplifted, I am burdened, weighed down as if carrying a heavy load. On the other hand, letting go–being detached—lightens my load and frees my spirit. That in turn releases yet more energy and creativity.
These sentences from a Baha’i prayer describes where detachment can lead me:
O God, my God! Fill up for me the cup of detachment from all things, and in the assembly of Thy splendors and bestowals, rejoice me with the wine of loving Thee. Free me from the assaults of passion and desire, break off from me the shackles of this nether world, draw me with rapture unto Thy supernal realm, and refresh me amongst the handmaids with the breathings of Thy holiness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 57.
Admittedly, having a goal of being detached so that I can reap the reward of being rapturous and refreshed is itself an attachment. Putting aside that seeming spiritual paradox for now, I believe that the distinction can be explained by saying that my essence, my self-ness, expresses itself through my deeds without being the same as those deeds; and what I give no longer belongs to me.
This isn’t always easy to remember, and the vision of being “amongst the handmaids with the breathings of Thy holiness” may not be within easy reach. This means that detachment is not something I achieve one day, and then am finished. Rather, as I grow toward spiritual maturity, detachment takes a lifetime to master.