How Using Our Creativity Can Teach Us About Detachment

Being in the flow of the creative process creates the space for learning skills in the practice of detachment.
Art and Detachment
Photo by Charles Parker from Pexels

"There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns." - Edward de Bono

What is detachment?  

Detachment is the ability to see things, events, desires, and outcomes, and even the words of others as separate from yourself. It is the release of expectation and dependency on things outside of yourself. 

Detachment is a practice that is talked about in Zen Buddhism; they refer to it as Non-Attachment. This philosophy describes detachment as a greater act of loving and leads the way to a deeper involvement in our lives. When we can master detachment we achieve a type of freedom that allows us to live more authentically and more fully.

We become more compassionate and more giving because it fills us up enabling us to give more freely. It is about realizing your own authentic truth. It is freedom because it stops your mind and emotions from being in control, you become in charge of them instead of them being in charge of you. 

What detachment is not

Detachment has the stigma of being cold, and heartless or unfeeling. This is incorrect. Detachment is not associated with the terms good, or bad.  Nor is the act of practicing detachment a call to get rid of all your worldly belongings and head out into the wilderness and live off the land, or join a monastery. Detachment is not an action but more of a practice.

" We can't  use detachment as an excuse not to deal with fundamental issues such as livelihood, power, self-esteem, and relationships with other people….Nor can we make detachment a synonym for indifference, or carelessness, or passivity. Instead we can practice detachment as a skill - perhaps the essential skill for infusing our lives with integrity and grace." - Sally Kempton 

There needs to be a balance of detachment and attachment. Too much in one direction causes unhealthy connections. When we are too attached we are giving things too much power and sway in our lives, not enough attachment and we are giving them too little power. So a balance is necessary. Finding that sweet spot takes insight and practice.

Connection Vs Attachment 

Now I am not a Buddhist but I can appreciate this view of how we can misconstrue connection for attachment. Connection is one thing Attachment is quite another.

Connection is an exchange of energy that two people feel when they are together, it is a sense of belonging and acceptance. Attachment involves dependency and an unhealthy need for security and love.

As humans by design, we are wired for connection. We often forget that this includes having a connection to ourselves. We can become attached to outcomes, relationships, roles we play, thoughts we think, and possessions we have or desire among other things such as our sense of happiness and time. 

"Every person, thing, situation or incidence have three perspectives to be seen (separate) from; Your truth, my truth, and the (absolute) truth, the more detached you are from your emotions, the closer you are to the (Authentic) truth" Rahul Pawar

With this philosophy in mind,  detachment is an important practice because it helps with our own security, teaches us to build boundaries. It is a way of practicing self-love and compassion.

It respects the boundaries of others and can increase our practice of showing compassion to others. We can't love others as we want to without loving ourselves first. We can't offer compassion if we don't show it to ourselves, and we can't respect others' boundaries without learning to hold our own. 

What does it mean to Practice Detachment?

When I think of detachment, and how I can incorporate it into my own life. I have to think that I am a mother of four, I am a dedicated wife, and I have many goals and aspirations that I still wish to work towards.

I prefer to look at it as becoming aware of what I am attached to, and how much I may be attached to it. Is this attachment getting in the way of my relationships, career, and ideal self?

For me practicing detachment is simply trying not to take things directly into my heart or taking everything personally. We can see that not everything is about or even involves us, and we don't feel the need to be involved in or a part of everything around us. 

Detachment is actually a healthy way to feed our self-esteem and a way of practicing self-compassion and love. To practice detachment is to have an awareness of your thoughts and feelings and examining how they are attached or connected to external factors.  One tool I use that helps me to train my brain to practice detachment is art.

Disconnection and art 

I once attended an open unscheduled event at a studio. There were paints and canvases laid out on the table. I came with two of my daughters who were both quite young at the time, one was 8, one was 5. My daughters headed straight to the canvases opened the paints and dived right in. Meanwhile, I stared at the blank canvas unsure of where or how to start.

I had no ideas in my head that inspired me to start painting, and I consider myself to be an artistic creative person. Why couldn't I do the seemingly simple task my children had no problem attacking? After what seemed like an eternity the instructor came over to me and said "Having trouble getting started?" I admitted I was. "Do you mind if I try something with you?" The instructor asked.

I agreed and the instructor took three different colors of paint. She used one color and dabbed it randomly on my paper. She took the second color and did the same thing. The third color she splattered on. "There, See if you can find any inspiration in that." and then she left me to it. 

Art guides and connects us to ourselves and disconnects us from the outside world. It gives us insights as to how we perceive things and can connect us to outside things in new ways by giving us a better understanding of how we interpret things.

It is a way of expressing things Authentically. It has not only helped me reconnect with myself in the past but also helped my children with detachment as well. 

When I say art I mean any creative outlet you may have. This includes woodworking, sculpting, writing, painting, interior decorating, music and dance, any way of engaging in the creative process. 

What was blocking me was this overthinking in my head that I had to create something masterful, live up to my own expectations on what my artistic abilities were, and even get over the insane thought that I somehow had to impress my daughters.

When I focused on the splatters and blobs, It was enough to get me out of my head and into my creative zone and I did in fact paint something rather lovely, those splatters transformed into a hummingbird, something I had never attempted to paint before.

Once I started I was able to get out of that cycle of thinking and detach myself from those patterns and let go of my own expectation of the final product. 

The act of creating art is an alchemical process that transforms our imaginations into something concrete and tangible. It is the process that gives our ideas form. This process is both chaotic and unpredictable just like the operations of our brains. So I argue this is a perfect way to help retrain them.

Here are 7 ways Art helps us to actively retrain our brains and practice detachment.

1. Art teaches Mindfulness

Mindfulness is what helps us to slow down our reactions, it is the pathway that moves us towards detachment. It gets us out of our logical yet irrational heads and into our imaginations where anything is possible. 

Being in a mindful state helps us move thoughts and feelings through our bodies. When we are too attached to things we react quickly both with our emotions and our actions.

We need to allow the feelings and flight or fight reactions to move through us in order to proceed more intentionally rather than acting on survival instincts alone.

Detachment is the ability to experience what we are feeling without allowing them to control us or identify us. We are practicing detachment when we think before we act rather than simply reacting.

 " The trick is to metabolize pain as energy. Learn, when hit by loss, to ask the right question: "What next?" instead of " Why me?"- Julia Cameron - The Artist's Way  

Art teaches us mindfulness when we are in the flow of the creative process. Creating art is considered by many to be a conduit for a meditative state. You can get lost in the mixing of mediums and the blending of colors.

How often have you been in the middle of creating something only to find out that what felt like mere minutes have in fact been hours? For me this is almost every time I engage in the creative process, I get lost in it, and often It takes a lot of effort for me to stop and do things like make dinner and feed my family.

They can feed themselves, right?  Creating art is a mindful practice. It is an activity that allows us to step back from our minds and observe what we are doing in the present time. 

2. Art teaches us to focus on the journey

Too often we are focused solely on achieving our goals and forget that there is an adventure and valuable knowledge to be gained in the process of attaining them. When we are too attached to outcomes and expectations we miss some lessons that need to be acknowledged along the way.

When you finally do achieve the goal, is it not the journey we took getting there that we reflect on most? We are most proud of the journey, the overcoming of obstacles, and the hard work we put into it. 

It's the experience that counts If we can focus on the creating rather than the creation itself. We are practicing our detachment skills. We just have to go through the process and allow things to come up as we go along, whether it be inspiration or frustration. We need to travel through it.

We know that detachment from the situation is occurring when we are able to see what is occurring as if we are outside of it rather than it happening to us. This is when we can take action from a place of inspiration.

If we look at this in terms of the seven stages of the creative process as stated by Orna Ross it is easy to make a clear indication of why you must honor the journey of creating art. 

"A common reason why people fail to accomplish their heart's desire is because they are indulging thoughts and behaviours that are inappropriate to the stage they are in." - Orla Ross

You simply cannot move forward if you do not acknowledge the place where you are at. Without being consistent and true to each step you will not be journeying at all but rather you remain stagnant and in place. 

The 7 Stages of the Creative Process Defined by Orla Ross

This is not a simplistic model imposed on human behavior but a primal, unfolding process that happens over and over again, in humans and in nature. We can see this creative unfolding reflected in the seven stages of life, and also in the seven psychological states, as follows:


STAGE 2: INCUBATION (Germinating)




STAGE 6: CORRECTION (Revis[ion]ing)

STAGE 7: COMPLETION (Finishing and Letting Go)

There have been many art projects I have started and abandoned. I often wonder if I went back to them knowing what I do now using this model would I be able to see the stage I got stuck on and be able to work through it and complete those abandoned creations.

Or would I find that I in fact abandoned them because I was on the wrong path, to begin with, and needed to start a journey that was more authentic for me? 

3. Art encourages us to practice allowing 

Allowing is about just permitting life to be just as it is, resisting the urge to manipulate or control. Loosen your grip on the world around you. Allow your thoughts and emotions to flow freely.

Allow things to not go the way you expected. To practice the art of allowing it creates space for life to happen, you stop resisting and suffering ceases. Allowing helps us to detach from the expectations we place on outcomes and our need to control them.

The idea of creating art for art's sake was originally a slogan from the early 19th century it was to enforce the belief that art should be created for no specific end other than to create art.

There simply didn't need to be an agenda for creating things, art could simply be created for the beauty of the creation as well as the process itself. If you adopt this belief while indulging in your craft then you are allowing the process and the outcome to be what it is.

This is how art helps us to practice allowing. We should create for the enjoyment of creating, sometimes we may not even finish our projects and let them go entirely which allows us to create without judgment. 

So allow yourself to try new things just for the sake of trying them. Allow mistakes, it's how we learn and it also sparks creativity. None of us could do something perfectly on the first attempt. This is in fact the re-visioning part of the creative process. Give yourself permission and allow them time to create without the guilt of what you "should be doing" 

4. Art teaches us to embrace uncertainty

We need to be able to adjust our sails when our plans or ideals just don't pan out how we thought. We must understand that we can't control everything that happens in life.

We need to be clear on the things we can and can't control. We want to control things more when we feel insecure or unsteady. This is an uncomfortable space to be in, so we escape it by trying to control more than we need to. Learning to embrace uncertainty helps us overcome the fear of the unknown. 

"Those who seek security in the exterior world chase it for a lifetime. By letting go of your attachment to the illusion of security, which is really an attachment to the know, you step into the field of all possibilities." Deepak Chopra

When we react instinctively instead of intentionally it is because we are uncomfortable with a situation and want to escape the discomfort by solving it or running away from it as fast as possible. 

Art can't be rushed, it must be done slowly, thoughtfully, and progressively. Teaches us how to delay decision-making and proceed with intention. "The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn't need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas" Abe Tannenbaum

When problems arrive in our art-making we don't throw in the towel or pretend the error didn't happen. Often in art, you can't undo what you've already done. You have to bend your mind into how to alter the plans on what you've started to incorporate your "Beautiful Whoops." Creative action when you are mindful of inflow is when the ideas flow from creativity rather than from instinct.

How to make something out of nothing. (when we think we can't move forward because we don't have the necessary skills/items/etc., we are attached to a certain way of doing things, we believe things can only be achieved by following a certain plan) Often we don't know where to begin or know how to start the process. We just have to sit with what we have and start somewhere.

The more you practice this, the more you will gain the ability to adapt to any and all hangers and keep your peace of mind in your everyday life. 

5. Art teaches us to let go of other people's opinions, even our own

When we are caught up in our worth being evaluated by our actions, what other people think, or even by our own expectations of ourselves it is a sign we are looking for outside factors to determine whether we are enough.

We live in a world where we want instant likes and count the number of comments on our social media posts. We crave instant feedback and praise and reward, and it can create frustration and anger as well as hurt and resentment when we are too attached to outside feedback and we don't receive it. 

"Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves. - Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

We can also practice letting go of what we think our finished project should look like.

6. Through Art we learn to release perfectionism

Many of us hold onto the belief we are not good enough. When we allow ourselves to create without judgment we can take away the pressure and criticism concerning the final product. This diminishes perfectionism and self-doubt. We simply can't fail if we have no investment in what the outcome will be. 

Ever had children come up to you with such pride and excitement in their eyes, telling you of a brilliant plan or idea they've just had or a project they have just created? Don't they just glow in the beauty of their own brilliance? I know with my own daughters I have often tried to listen to these exuberant pitching of ideas with complete confusion and I struggle to understand them sometimes.

But the absolute spark of pride and excitement in them I just can't do anything but support them, no matter how wild and absurd their ideas are. We have all experienced the feeling of having the wind taken out of our sails. I try hard not to be the one who does that to my children. 

As adults, we often brush it off in a loving way dismissing the true beauty they are revealing to us. We grow up judging our creative talents and doubting our abilities. Yet Creativity is innate in us, we come into this world creative inspiring beings. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we were able to hold onto that unjudged sense of creativity flowing through us? The trick now is to learn to trust that part of us.

Start by releasing these thoughts and judgments of yourself and how you expect your creations to turn out. Creativity is receptivity, It is one of the quickest ways to connect to your soul. 

7. Art teaches us to be in the present moment

Unhealthy attached people are always looking ahead or behind them. They are planners, worriers, They lament and relive the past, and are always predicting the future.

If we are looping these thoughts in our heads regularly it can freeze us into not taking any steps of moving forward in our lives in areas with our jobs, our relationships, and even our own self-development. 

Art teaches us to be present by forcing us to focus on doing things in single tasks. It is next to impossible to be in a creative state while multitasking. Being in the flow causes us to slow down the pace at which we do each task, creating space for intentional actions and creative direction.

It shuts down the mental loop of repeating our daily tasks and to-do lists. It creates space for us to let everything else around us fall away. This allows us to be free of all attachments even just for the moment.

Free of thoughts, free of obligations, free of our outside lives. The more we practice this the longer we can hold it, and the better chance we have of transferring these brain patterns to take over into other areas of our lives.

In conclusion, detachment requires a shift in our thinking, a rewiring of our automatic responses, thoughts, and feelings. Detachment is first and awareness that we develop and a mindful practice we cultivate. Creativity is one of the mindful tools we can use to practice detachment.

Being in the creative flow while creating art gives us the space and skills needed for this practice. If you are looking to hone in on your detachment skill, pull out those knitting needles or paints and brushes it is the perfect starting point. 

Mother of four. Nature lover, Gardener, crafter, and certified soul coach.

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