I was in the principal’s office. Another dressing down for not-following-paperwork-protocol. Spending my prep-period being made to feel inadequate. Having to suck it up until I later when I could get an infusion of love to regain my equanimity.
At that moment of feeling defeated, I remembered that I was not without protection. I remembered the imaginary paper drawings in my pocket. My little gang of friends ready to defend me.
I imagined a Latinx Ninja with the black mask, jumping out of my pocket. I imagined, all without my accuser knowing, as she sprinted and leapt her one-and-a-half-inch paper frame onto the table, landing with animated impact. I stifled any joy from showing on my face as I saw her two-dimensional paper legs whirl towards my boss’s striped shirt. When she produced pink paper nunchucks, I had to force myself to think of something else.
I checked back into reality for a moment to make certain my face wasn’t registering any joy. I was safe. I was portraying penitence.
My boss didn’t know that the gang has my back. She doesn’t know that they will defend me – if only in my imagination – from those who oppose me.
I will always be thankful to the Latinx Ninja for helping me on that day.
Detachment is often considered a negative thing. And, of course, it can be.
When detachment is perennially done, that’s a problem. If it is done or has been done to such an extent that one’s spiritual muscles have atrophied, that, too, is a problem.
But detachment by itself is not a bad thing.
There are certainly times to detach. Like meditating, in the dentist’s chair, or sleeping. Being emotionally present when you are getting dressed down by a supervisor is risky. We don’t want to slip into our reptilian brains and Hulk-smash a source of our physical nourishment.
Accordingly, we emotionally detach.
We don’t get angry at the moment; we take the supervisor’s abuse.
It’s adaptive to detach in the moment.
We have to be physically present to get dental work done, but we don’t have to be mentally fully present. We have to be there when a supervisor dresses us down. But we don’t have to be mentally fully present.
What I want to suggest is a way to not take their abuse.
Learning to detach from the anger at the source is a spiritual practice.
The vignette I started with, about the Latinx Ninja, is something you can do yourself.
I find that many adults are a little self-conscious about granting themselves the self-permission necessary to be a little childlike. But, as this is something that only needs to happen in one’s mind, I find that most are able to get over that hurdle.
Here is what you do:
- Imagine a little gang of friends somewhere you can access them – a purse, on your desk, in your glove compartment. If if helps you to make sketches ahead of time, do that.
- Wait, like a bodhisattva Bernie Goetz, for someone to accost you
- When you are provoked, don’t buy into their anger; instead, activate one of the gang members to animate and defend you
- Afterwards, thank the gang member (or members if multiple were needed) for their dedication
The gang is your own imaginary personal protection agency.
All you need to do to is to follow your imagination, detach a little from reality, and keep yourself from getting angry.
Without a spiritual practice to deflect external belittlement, we build up and then need to discharge accumulated anger. Without a spiritual practice, it is harder to be calm. Without a spiritual practice, it is harder not to be offended. Without a spiritual practice, it is harder not to plot revenge.
It is never easy to endure the bad things that happen to us. And without a spiritual practice, it is even harder. So practice a little spiritual detachment.
They might be looking at us, saying they are disappointed in us, but we don’t have to believe it. Not believing them is a spiritual practice. Believing in your own immutable worth is a spiritual practice. Beleive that your value is beyond their judgment.
(Hey, if you really messed up and really did something wrong, please acknowledge that. I’m writing this whole article assuming someone is lashing out at you, unjustified.)
This is the point of a spiritual practice. Even one as goofy as animating little paper friends. The point of this spiritual practice is to preserve your perceived perfection. To put this spiritual practice into religious language – you should remind yourself that God godself and the heavens love you. The verbal slings and arrows of any terrestrial cannot dim your light. Your coruscating effulgence of being connected to the infinite is unstoppable. No one has the power to take that away.
And, when they try to dim your shine, you are ready. You have backup: a little gang of friends.