With my new, most challenging crop of students, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of non-attachment. Every Thursday, I walk into class feeling that being completely detached is the only way to survive, and also that being completely detached is the worst thing I could do for these students.
Today I came across this blog post about the nature of non-attachment. In it, Sandra Pawla writes that when you understand non-attachment:
- Emotions arise, but you have space. You have perspective. Emotions don’t catch and torment you every time.
That is it. That is the crux of what I wasn’t getting. I thought cultivating a calm non-attachment in the face of a room full of challenge was to shut it all down, to put my hands over my eyes and get down in a defensive crouch. But the answer is to open and soften my eyes and stand, strong and flexible and present. It is a daily practice which begins with a few minutes of awareness of breath every day.
Last week, I kicked two students out of my class. One went without argument, clearly upset but keeping it in check for a more appropriate time and place. The second — well, she would. not. leave. I found myself getting increasingly angered and frustrated that this person was taking up time I should be using to teach to draw attention to herself. For a moment, I was caught and tormented by anger, unable to handle anything else in the room. I had it on the tip of my mind and heart to give up, just let her stay and I could struggle through the last hour of class in anger. I took a breath. And another breath. And stood up straight, and repeated, calmly, “Leave.” Then I turned back to the group of students I was helping and continued my work. She left.
Although there is no victory in someone disrupting learning enough to be removed from the space, there was a small bit of growth in standing — strong, flexible and present — while that little bit of chaos washed over me. There is also a small bit of growth in the knowing and acknowledging my own sadness and concern about that one human being. That kind of cry for attention comes from a deep ache, and I can’t help but have compassion for her on a human level.
Still, the gift of non-attachment that draws me into a compassionate place, also gives me strength to do what I feel is the greater good in the moment. I hope, for the rest of this term, that I don’t have to exercise this gift in this way again.