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Living Powerfully with Detachment

Our life is dominated by social approval or acceptance. Every action, every word is expressed with a desire for power, wealth, recognition, status, success – all symbols of acceptance by the external world

Published: Jun 13, 2013

Can the external world truly satisfy all your desires and for how long?

Commonly, when an entrepreneur establishes a business there maybe a need to hire professional management to grow the business into an organization. Many feel challenged to let go of control or allow another to contribute. Often family owned organizations, may not grow to the full potential or get fragmented after the death of the owner because of lack of succession planning. Attachment to the creation, the sense of ownership, the inability to let go and working for the good of the organization versus personal glory blurs the vision and obstructs creativity and ability to take a holistic decision.

I was coaching a senior executive who had to let go of a few professionals due to the financial downturn. His dilemma was that they had been with him for some years and how could he ask them to go. I asked him to look into what was more relevant to him - the long-term health of the organization or the momentary emotional pain of taking the hard decision. The answer is though often known, requires courage to be implemented. We need to accept our circumstances, our role in that situation and play it to our best. We get so embroiled in the role and start believing it to be real that our decisions get colored by our desires, expectations, hopes, fears and ego.

“Let go of your attachment to being right and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoint of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.” Ralph Martson

We can choose to live being great or grateful. This fine distinction in vision changes the quality of our life. Driven by his ambition, Alexander conquered large territories in a short span of time. However, the Indian sages remained unimpressed because ultimate reality is that we can possess only that much land as is required to stand or be buried. Although Alexander understood and respected their wisdom, he continued to remain a slave of his ambition. In Egypt, tombs are buried with treasures since man hoped and desired to take wealth to their next life. The story of acquisition and ambition continues even today and we live like deluded slaves.

I remember when my first son was born; the family hovered around in awe, ‘wow, this is our child!’ Everyone oohed-aahed all over our son and soon there was talk about – his nose is like the mother, eyes are like the father, smile is like the grandmother and so on. Within minutes natures’ miraculous role was forgotten and the concept of ‘my-ness’ took over.

Nurturing a child day in day out, parents develop expectations and build dreams around the child. The child too in his attachment, falls prey and keeps working uphill to fulfill their expectations or rebels. The relationship suffers invariably at a deeper level where a feeling of incompleteness reins supreme. Nature makes us a medium of creation. However, we soon forget and behave like owners and keep trying to shape that creation to satisfy ourselves. We need to remember we are mere custodians for a period of time.

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” Simone Weil

Can we create anything without nature playing an active role?

Let us reflect, to create an organization, painting, book, building, we first require a thought. Where does a thought come from? Who does it belong to? How did we even get the ability to listen to and act upon the thought?

When I started pursuing various courses for self-transformation, as a part of the assignments, I started shedding stories and beliefs of my earlier years. There was a definite change in the sense of space in the mind. I realized that I was able to observe people’s behavior and analyze it very quickly. This alarmed me because I had no formal education in human behavior or scriptures. I was able to understand subtle concepts that may take years to decode. I was overwhelmed with this change and often questioned the source of this knowledge. I have seen that my ability to write or express with clarity is impacted by my state of mind. When I am attached to my-ness, I struggle and remained blocked. There is then a need to inquire into the source of attachment and shed the unproductive thought. When my mind is empty or silent from thoughts of ego, fears or desires, knowledge and ideas flow through me with ease.  

I was deeply impacted by the opening scene from the movie ‘Gandhi’ -- at the funeral procession there were millions of people mourning the sudden death of Gandhi and the news reporter introduced Gandhi as man of no possessions, no titles,…..yet he inspired many and his ideals are revered till date. The freedom fighters of India did not aspire for personal recognition; they were passionately devoted to a higher cause. The pursuit of a higher cause and the lack of my-ness empowered them to withstand the atrocities of the British Empire. People who dedicate their life to the benefit of nations, communities or organizations, don’t need to chase titles, wealth or power – the world gifts titles such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Shri Adi Shankarachrya, Swami Vivekananda, and many more.

To live powerfully and live a meaningful life, we need to detach ourselves from this sense of attachment by understanding our true nature. We are creations of nature and created for a reason. Seek to discover that reason and work to accomplish success in that domain without attachment to outcomes.

(Ashu is a leadership coach and author who works with senior executives in organizations such as Barclays Capital, Adidas,  Ernst & Young, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, etc. She is also a qualified chartered accountant. Ashu has recently compiled her insights, experiences as a coach and learning of life in a book, ‘I am Freedom’ (to be launched soon). In the book, she has shared her journey of inquiry into seeking inner freedom and thereby, unlocking the power to love and live. For more www.ashukhanna.com )

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  • Sudeep

    Amazing Article AK! Most of the articles on forbes, HBR or any other sites don\'t shake you from within, but, this one does. Each and every example and line is so true and relevant to every Indian alive. I have seen so many friends and people around me with adequate wealth and facilities. Some are satisfied and happy but the deep thinking ones are sad and kind of desperate to do something big. Nobody knows what that \"Big\" thing is, but they just know that they have to do something which will be of some value to evolution of human civilization. Hope we find our way ! It takes a hell lot of courage to get off the proven paths(safe jobs, stable social and family life)

    on Jul 17, 2013
    • Ashu Khanna

      Thank you Sudeep. Wishing you all the best to discover your path and fulfillment.

      on Jul 17, 2013
  • Satishgudipati

    Nice Article Ms Khanna. this kind of paralysis/virus is there probably in many family run organisations and some who can break are growing and few still may grow by default which is based on nature of the line etc. truly said the attachment vs detachment is the key to obsolescence Vs Transformation. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna also in certain verses says clearly about the detachment and its benefits (3:19

    on Jun 19, 2013
    • Ashu Khanna

      Thank you so much, Mr Sudhaker

      on Jun 20, 2013
  • V S Sudhaker

    The law that governs detachment is \'Law of destiny\' When things are done with powerful desire to get some thing or achieve some thing or have a passion for getting things done- often in management called as target driven or number crunching Attachment is high - when above things are done as duty- as ordained duty then detachment -

    on Jun 18, 2013
  • Mukul

    Amazing article!

    on Jun 18, 2013
  • Vivek Khanna

    Superb article, it is really the \'detachment\' not the \'renunciation\' that will lead us. Renunciation keeps \'desire\' to \'have\' subtely \'ON\' while detachment is \'earned it\' but not getting impacted by its further accumulation or loss. When I surrender, I get all ;-)

    on Jun 15, 2013
    • Ashu Khanna

      Thanks Vivek

      on Jun 17, 2013
  • Deepak

    Such a shallow article.

    on Jun 13, 2013
    • Jayant

      Hey, why don\'t you add something substantial in support of your argument instead of putting up a \'shallow\' comment. As someone said, critics are those who watch a battle from the safety nest of a mountain top and then once the war is over, get down to kill the survivors.

      on Jun 14, 2013
      • Asshu Khanna

        Thank you, Jayant

        on Jun 17, 2013
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