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Non-attachment

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.

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