There are many definitions of “detachment,” sometimes depending on the context, but I have a favorite: in some circumstances it just means “cut and run.”
Of course, that’s not what Meher Baba means by detachment. Basically, he said he meant being in the world but not of it. However, we are all still human beings and he knows that, so until we’re ready, I’m sure he doesn’t expect complete detachment from us. I will bet he thinks we’re making some progress if we can just keep our hysteria under a modicum of control.
I do know some people who swear they’ve achieved detachment, but I’m suspicious of the kind of detachment that comes off appearing cold and uncaring, reeks of denial, and even contains a streak of cruelty. I’ve had some experience with that brand of detachment. As a young newspaper reporter, I and my colleagues learned very quickly that we had to develop some kind of detachment in order to save our sanity. Unfortunately, most of us sealed off a good bit of our humanity in the process. It was definitely the “cut and run” kind of detachment, and it was very hard to overcome.
I’m sure the detachment Baba talks about is not the cold, cynical detachment we cultivated. Rather, it has strong elements of empathy and compassion, but it cuts out the unhelpful emotion which can make it impossible for one to act intelligently in a crisis. I doubt very much that one simply decides to be detached and, voila, there it is. It develops over time, I think, until it becomes a natural, very balanced part of one’s makeup. In this context I think of Elizabeth, Kitty and Margaret. They were loving, caring human beings, but they could put out that kind of love and caring and still remain detached and relatively uninvolved. They never gave the impression, though, that they were simply paying lip service in their expressions of concern.
I still remember my years of made-up detachment and they scare me. I see in that kind of detachment the very real possibility of ending up with a smothered soul.
In the end, I expect it’s Meher Baba who brings us, in his own time, to the point where we’re truly “in the world, but not of it.” Certainly, we can’t do it without him.