When I was 17 in the 60’s, I wanted to be “cool.” For me it meant lighting up a cigarette, letting it dangle from my lips and assuming a demeanor of not caring. Talk about multi-tasking. I think I was hoping for a kind of a John Wayne laid back style –“Howdy Pilgrim”—with perhaps swash-buckling, sword-fighting Errol Flynn thrown in, as he maintained that famous grin even while being assaulted by somebody’s sword. Those were our heroes then, strange secular models for what I was looking for. Today while reading Wikipedia, I discovered that my erstwhile movie model, John Wayne, not only was a rabid conservative, but also died from lung cancer as a result of a six pack a day cigarette habit. Errol Flynn was an alleged Nazi sympathizer. That put the lie to the word “cool.”
When I consciously thought about being spiritual about 38 years ago, I changed “cool” for the word “detachment.” Nevertheless, I still thought it meant that I would no longer react to whomever or whatever was making me uncomfortable or pushing my button. Entering into spiritual life, I still hoped for that veneer and thought it would come effortlessly through my spiritual connection to my teacher. This actually was to be true, but not in the way I thought, the operative word being “thought.” Even though I received wonderful compliments for some of my career work, it really didn’t mean as much to me as when I returned home and didn’t react to somebody who made a careless or unconscious remark. Non-reactivity for somebody who has considered herself a basic “hysteric,” was quite an accomplishment.
What did I hope to achieve? That I would become Teflon as my favorite girl friend says, and comments,insults, and disappointments, would just roll off me? She told me she developed the Gardol shield (popular in the 60’s when referring to a cavity-fighting attribute of Colgate toothpaste.) I have to admit it looks good on her as she ambulates through life, having a good time no matter what.
Last year, giving up on becoming detached, I thought I would do something else and prayed for “acceptance.” However, what I found was that trying to love myself and accept my flaws while engaging in them was like an expanded oxymoron. Two very separate emotions were competing for space at the same time. Finally defeated from my desires of spiritual accomplishment, I am left with the realization that both these wishes, one for detachment and one for acceptance, are still ego motivated and in fact, means I’m still looking for that ice cream on a stick that has no calories, the hero who has no clay feet, or the life that has no obstacles.
Today I read a quote by Ma Jaya which Swami Krishnabai compiled in her wonderful calendar that “non-reactivity was surrender.” It made me realize I had been riding the wrong horse all the time and that I had subscribed to a set of beliefs and desires that were false. In my limited understanding, I think that surrender is a place of letting go of egoic expectations, desires, hopes and attachments that run counter to the true spiritual quest for peace. On those rare occasions when I drop my aspirations and desires and let myself “be,” I experience peace within myself. While a moment to moment thing, that peace seems to turn into joy and I discover that to be the true detachment I have been searching for. Halleluja!
As a postscript, I find myself returning to my ego quest and praying that this peace will last.