By John Cowan


As a child in the Roman Catholic school system I learned to detach myself from things both bad and not so bad simply to assure that I had the psychic muscle to do so. Give up candy for Lent. Nothing wrong with candy in those days, but this exercise would build psychic muscle so that when the possibility of evil thoughts, theft, injury to others, sin came along I could detach from the temptation and from the deed. Detachment was a struggle I was having!

In my thirteenth year I enter a Roman Catholic Seminary, began living for nine months of the year in a world isolated from the world of most people, and the other three months separated from them by an invisible bar. The intent of this life was to allow me to over twelve years detach myself from the mores of the world. This was fairly effective. For good and ill. But not completely. For good and ill.

But even so, after that extensive work-over it was more than clear that the world and the inclinations that created that world were still buried in my nature. So I began at twenty-five a mature life, one part of which was to continue the task of unhooking myself from sin and its causes, temptation and its results. Detaching.

In the early nineties at the same time as I was immersed in the study and teaching of Buddhism, I read Jean Klein, a French medical doctor, musicologist, author, spiritual philosopher and teacher of the Advaita Vedanta. According to Jean Klein, it is only in a spontaneous state of interior silence that we can open ourselves to our true nature: the ‘I Am’ of pure consciousness.” Since for such as Jean all things are unified, the divine without a body he calls God, and the divine with this particular body he calls John. Interior silence allows us to be aware of our true nature. Detachment now ceased being active rejection and became interior silence separating me from the turmoil of life, awaiting the emergence of my true nature.

In two-thousand-four I tumbled into Quakerism where we sit in silence and observe among other things our selves, and we are taught that this observing is in the divine light and will change us for the better. Quakers do not hold that we are God, but in practice come pretty close. The Christ within me is the same as the Christ within Jesus. John’s Gospel gives credence to this teaching. The scholars say that Jesus did not say any of this, but a community of his followers around the year 85 a.d. reported this from their experience. They experienced the God within.

I no longer try to detach myself from the candy bars, evil thoughts, angry wishes to do injury. Instead my detachment is that the observing be detached from what it observes. I intend that the Christ within sees as I think God sees, all, including the creature John in his struggles, objectively. What is, is.

My mind shall be still, not reactive. The turmoil in my life is not struggled with. I am not trying to improve. I have confidence, both based on the experience of my Quaker teachers and on my experience that I will come closer to better as my feelings, behavior, thoughts reorganize themselves in the awareness.

My mind is present, quiet and open. It does not react. It observes. This is my new definition of “detachment.” Detachment is a sinking down, a relaxation, a falling back. Allowing God to work, while I become simply the observing.

About Love. As the mind quiets, the vision clears. Love comes easily. As I see reality as it is instead of through the cloud of many struggling things the response of compassion and love is more likely to be triggered. Not sought, but triggered. Less forced love, and more, to the point, love responsive to the person and situation. Compassion. I cry for others a lot more than I used to.