I'm not sure when I first encountered the idea of detachment, but I remember I wasn't too keen on the notion. After all, we belong to a culture that is all about results. If the results are not what you hope for or expect, you have failed. This is what our culture says. So how could a person possibly think that acting a certain way or taking a certain action could be successful if the outcome is not the desired outcome? How could a person not worry about the results? This is what I used to wonder.
I have come to gain a little more perspective on the idea of detachment lately. Maybe it's because of my interest in social justice, the attainment of which is a slow process. I am pretty certain I will never live in a wholly just world. Some people would argue that because we ourselves will never see a just world, we shouldn't make the effort to change things. I disagree.
A couple years ago some students brought up how they thought the school should offer something like a shop class- technical hands-on type stuff. I told them that if they wanted to propose this to the administration, I'd be happy to help them formulate their arguments. In the discussion, one student made the point that, even if they were successful in convincing the school to offer such classes, they would not be beneficiaries of their work. So I asked if proposing class(es) was worth it to them if ultimately they wouldn't benefit. There was some dicussion about this. In the end, they took no action.
In my own life for a long while, I was feeling quite unsettled about a particular concern. Previously I had tried to take action and was wildly unsuccessful in achieving any sort of change. Recently I came to the realization that I needed to take action again. Given what had happened when I tried the first time, I was not excited about trying again. However, I knew in my heart that I could not not act. This time I at least knew already that in all likelihood I would be met with the same "failure" as before. However, I also knew that if I did not act, I would not be able to live with myself. I'd been living with the feeling that I had unfinished business for too long. So I did what I had to do.
To be honest, I don't know what the "outcome" of my actions were. Once I did what I needed to do, the situation was out of my hands...and I was OK with that. I am now much more cognizant of the fact that I can control no one's actions but my own. I can only take responsibility for what I do. If I act with integrity, regardless of how anyone reacts or responds, then I am doing what I need to do.
Really, it goes back to one of my favorite analogies: planting seeds. In my garden I can plant seeds. However, once those seeds are in the ground, I have little control over what happens. Sure, I can try to put them in fertile ground where they'll get plenty of light. I can water them. However, I can't control whether or not they sprout and grow. The same is true of my actions. I can try to plant seeds of truth, of justice, of peace, and of love in the world. My hope is that doing so will lead to a fruitful life and a fruitful world. Certainly in my life, it has.
However, I know that not all the seeds I try to plant will grow. I know that sometimes, even when I act in the way I know is right, it will seem as if I have not acted at all, as if I never even took the seeds out of their package. Looking around me after my recent actions, this is what I see: nothing has changed...except... I now feel as peace. After feeling unsettled for so long, I feel some relief. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I truly have done all I can. If nothing ever changes in the situation, I know it is not because of my inaction.
Perhaps this is what detachment is about: knowing that I am acting with integrity, even if in a big-picture sort-of-way, nothing changes. What is important is that change happens within. And for me, this time, it has.