Love with Detachment

(I spoke this piece to our parents’ Alanon group this evening. I believe it has some general significance.)

I’d like to begin with some words from the inspired writer and spiritual teacher, Kahlil Gibran:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

A slogan I’ve been workin with for many years in Alanon is “Detachment with Love”.

In spiritual terms,  I’m learning that this is a “fine study”, a paradox. There’s something about the practice of love that requires us to be “all in”, yet, when we mistakenly confuse enabling with love, the results are usually disastrous.

It’s helping me to take a step back to consider what real love is all about. Scott Peck’s 1978 bestseller, “The Road Less Traveled”, remains an important book for me. The first line of the book, “Life is difficult”, was an eye-opener. Peck writes that love is “extending yourself for the spiritual benefit of yourself and others.” I’m still chewing on that line today.

Peck says that love involves attraction, emotional bonding, and obligations, but that its most salient element is that it is always a choice. We have to consciously choose to extend ourselves for someone’s spiritual benefit. Clearly, enabling a loved one’s addiction doesn’t bring spiritual benefit to anyone.

We describe our Alanon program as “spiritual but not religious”. But what exactly do we mean by “spiritual”? Peck describes a person’s soul or spirit as their “essential animating life force.” In this understanding, “spiritual benefit” means anything that furthers the essential animating life force of someone. In a healthy love relationship, each party holds the spiritual benefit of the other as dearly as for themselves. As good parents, we extend ourselves to our children, but without the assumption of balanced reciprocity.

With this understanding, I’m moving towards a deeper understanding of “Detachment with Love”. In doing my Step 4 inventory, I came to realize that I am a pretty mental person. I learned that I needed to pay more attention to the feeling elements of living, to develop more emotional intelligence. Mental detachment comes easy for me, but detachment while maintaining a caring, feeling connection is challenging.  For that reason, I’m slightly adapting the slogan to “Love with Detachment” — affirming the primacy of love.

I’d like to end with a simple graphic, “The Laws of Detachment” by James Sebastiano, that I found online. I’ve added some comments about each of the colored circles.

Allow others to be who they are.  Acceptance of others is affirming the essential integrity and individuality of our loved one, even when we strongly disagree.

Allow ourselves to be who we are. This involves a fundamental acceptance of our own values and beliefs. We don’t have to violate our own integrity.

Don’t force situations. Remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of someone else’s forcng current. It almost always creates tension and can lead to animosity and conflict.

Solutions will emerge. Our Alanon program espouses a longterm attitudinal change within ourselves that can open the door to new possibilities.

Uncertainty is reality. This is part of our work with Step 1 – admitting our powerlessness.

Embrace it. Surrendering to the uncertainty of powerlessness is something that takes time to learn, especially for those of us who think we have to be in charge. In Alanon, we can learn to affirm the reality that our Higher Power is in charge.

John Bayerl, 1/10/2022

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