Spiritual Practice  for Meister Eckhart : Detachment

All those (are just) who accept all things alike from God, whatever it may be, great or small, joy or sorrow, all of it alike, less or more, one like the other. If you account anything more than something else, you do wrong. You ought to go wholly out from your own will.
— Meister Eckhart, Sermon 6

Practice Chosen

Though much of Meister Eckhart’s work seems esoteric, when he gets to the point of the matter, the kernel of his thought shines bright and true. I was keenly interested in the kernel Eckhart produced for us on detachment.  This is the place he returned to again and again. It was, in my reading of his work, foundational to his thinking.

Description of Practice

 I tend to learn best by doing and then reflecting. While I was writing the posts this week, detachment presented itself for further investigation. I have been working away at detachment in its many forms for years, but this was a particular practice of concentration for a contained period of time.

The idea for this practice arrived as a gift. This week contained a heart-breaking episode with one of our children, leaving me deeply sorrowful. But this practice, which I did at the beginning of the week, has allowed me to more easily let go of outcomes. (And when it comes to children, the practice of letting go of outcomes must certainly lead to sainthood – should one desire this dubious distinction.)

I practiced this on my Sabbath, which was Monday of this week. I spend the day at home, in quietness, thinking, and reading. It is a good day for spiritual practices. From the moment I woke up until mid day I attempted with each choice that came to me to examine it and see if I could move forward without preference. Should I have a shower? Do I care if I have a shower? Is it more interesting to have a shower or not? What will I eat for breakfast? Is there something that I desire greatly? Can I instead be fine with what is in front of me or do I need to search out something that is more pleasing? See below my stream of consciousness - with little if any literary value - but you can see how my mind was working. 


It is raining cluster flies - biblical plague like raining. You sweep the stairs and by the time you get to the bottom there are more dead bodies. What to do? Sweep again? Walk on dead bodies? Does it matter?  Sweep, don't sweep. Either feels fine, so I sweep. Peaceful. 

It is raining cluster flies - biblical plague like raining. You sweep the stairs and by the time you get to the bottom there are more dead bodies. What to do? Sweep again? Walk on dead bodies? Does it matter?  Sweep, don't sweep. Either feels fine, so I sweep. Peaceful. 

Do you want bread for lunch? That would be nice. Is it necessary? Do you want to make it? Are you attached to the bread? Do you really need apricots in it? I don't want to make it. If I don't want to make it is that a preference too, obstinacy, or are they the same thing? I think this is about focus/lust/pushing/ as opposed to ease/gentleness/going more with the flow of things. If I can give up my preferences will everything then seem a delight? According to Eckhart, yes, because then I will be one with God. 

Do you want bread for lunch? That would be nice. Is it necessary? Do you want to make it? Are you attached to the bread? Do you really need apricots in it? I don't want to make it. If I don't want to make it is that a preference too, obstinacy, or are they the same thing? I think this is about focus/lust/pushing/ as opposed to ease/gentleness/going more with the flow of things. If I can give up my preferences will everything then seem a delight? According to Eckhart, yes, because then I will be one with God. 

Is this enough orange juice? Usually I have a full cup, but the oranges I squeezed only yielded this much. I look at it for a long time and decide it is just exactly the right amount. Peaceful. 

Is this enough orange juice? Usually I have a full cup, but the oranges I squeezed only yielded this much. I look at it for a long time and decide it is just exactly the right amount. Peaceful. 

The key word in Eckhart’s account of how we human beings can enter into union with God, can share God’s life, is the word in the Middle High German abegescheidenheit, translated into modern English as detachment. As far as Eckhart is concerned, detachment is the supreme virtue, the virtue which in fact comprehends all the other virtues - even faith and love and humility.
— John Orme Mills, OP, The Eckhart Society
The chickpeas in the fridge smell awful. I decide that it is not something that needs to stay in the fridge. As I pass the tulips on the way to the compost I put down the chickpeas and smell them both. I prefer the smell of the tulips. But after spending quite some time with this, it does not seem to make a difference - though perhaps I have just grown accustom to the sour smell of the chickpeas. 

The chickpeas in the fridge smell awful. I decide that it is not something that needs to stay in the fridge. As I pass the tulips on the way to the compost I put down the chickpeas and smell them both. I prefer the smell of the tulips. But after spending quite some time with this, it does not seem to make a difference - though perhaps I have just grown accustom to the sour smell of the chickpeas. 

Mango or banana. I  want  mango. If I want it for pleasure and it feels free and easy, that seems o.k. But if I have to force the issue of the mango - it is frozen requiring thawing, will have to delay breakfast, don't want to go against my principles and use microwave - and the banana is right in front of me and ripe, what then? Somehow the mango seemed 'fussy' and 'forced'. If I were to continue pursuing it, that is what I would call lust/compulsion. I eat the banana.  Good breakfast? Peaceful breakfast. 

Mango or banana. I want mango. If I want it for pleasure and it feels free and easy, that seems o.k. But if I have to force the issue of the mango - it is frozen requiring thawing, will have to delay breakfast, don't want to go against my principles and use microwave - and the banana is right in front of me and ripe, what then? Somehow the mango seemed 'fussy' and 'forced'. If I were to continue pursuing it, that is what I would call lust/compulsion. I eat the banana.  Good breakfast? Peaceful breakfast. 

Soak the dishes, do the dishes, leave the dishes? Am I more attached to a tidy kitchen or to being able to leave things for later? After a long time staring at the dishes, I realize I have no preference, so, as a kindness to my husband, I do them. Peaceful. 

Soak the dishes, do the dishes, leave the dishes? Am I more attached to a tidy kitchen or to being able to leave things for later? After a long time staring at the dishes, I realize I have no preference, so, as a kindness to my husband, I do them. Peaceful. 

Description of Practice

It slowed the day down to a snail’s pace, took a lot of mental/spiritual energy, and yielded surprising insights into my thinking – I have plenty of preferences, and yet, for the most part, I seem to be able to let them go, except of course, when I don't want to. 

This was not a visualizing exercise, so there were no mental images other than the things that were in front of me with which to work.

There were no physical sensations, but rather some emotional ones that flooded my physicality in the way that strong emotions do. At one point I was unexpectedly angry – internally – when I was trying to do the practice while coordinating with my husband about lunch. Did he want a certain kind of bread? Did it matter if it was part of the menu? If it mattered to him, did it matter to me? It did! (My husband is a very easygoing person, and not one to fuss about things, but somehow trying to work with detachment along with another person’s desire caused me difficulty. Probably lots more to explore here.)

Meister Eckhart – oh, such a clever man – has got it right. Attachment to preferences and outcomes is a bondage that drags one away from the divine. There is a freedom that comes from not ‘preferring.’ Practiced with conscious awareness, detachment gently pulls you back from this world, even while being actively in it. Also, to note, detachment, in Eckhart’s understanding, does not lead to slothfulness or acedia. But I can see that these tendencies, if not guarded against, might provide a substitute for true detachment, not yielding up god, but a doppelganger that appears divine, but in fact, drags one away, rather than toward, to isolation, rather than to embrace. This is not Meister Eckhart's intent. 

OH, but, then, later on in the week, out in the field, so to speak, well, that was another matter..........

I was doing so very well on my Sabbath. But this morning I went to pick up a tea before a meeting and get something for breakfast. I was still pondering detachment. I did not want to get too attached to anything. But here were so many choices in the tea shop -  all delicious. I was agitated. Should I choose the one closest? Should I choose the cheapest? What one does God want me to have? I don't want to ask because maybe it will be something I don't want. 

And when that thought came I knew I was not detached but enmeshed in the things of this world. I had replaced conversation with God with distractions. I took what I wanted and left the shop - and then continued to feel agitated all morning. I was still able to do my work, lead a meeting, and talk with people. But the energy below the surface was not my best self. Detachment is worth practicing. Because it is at the root of our dissatisfaction and addictions. It is hard to be truly peaceful while attached to things of this world.

Start with yourself therefore and take leave of yourself. Truly, if you do not depart from yourself, then wherever you take refuge, you will find obstacle and unrest, wherever it may be. Those who seek peace in external things, whether in places or devotional practices, people or works, in withdrawal from the world and self-abasement: however great these things may be or whatever their character, they are still nothing at all and cannot be the source of peace…
— Meister Eckhart