Emotional Detachment: How One Simple Man Learned a Powerful $16,000.00 Lesson

Emotional Detachment

Joel’s Note: This is a guest post from Raam Dev.

***

Shortly before my 21st birthday, I took advantage of a special first-time home buyer program and began investing in real estate.

Over the course of three years, I purchased three multi-family properties, all of which were to be long-term investments, a means of ‘securing my future’ so that I could eventually travel the world.

The properties were rental units and the income from the rent paid for the mortgages. If the rent was not paid by the tenants, I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. So maintaining fully rented properties was of utmost importance.

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

Shortly after purchasing one of the properties, all of the tenants – who told me they’d stay after I became the new landlord – decided to move out. I was left with an empty property and a several thousand-dollar mortgage payment looming over my head.

I had purchased this particular property at a discount because it was distressed. As a result, the units needed work before I could rent them again. So, I emptied my savings to pay the mortgage and worked every day for three months straight to renovate all three floors, completing all of the work myself to save money.

After completing the renovations, I placed ads in the local newspaper and then spent several weeks showing the units and interviewing tenants. Eventually, I collected security deposits for the units. Three families were ready to move in at the end of the month.

In the middle of winter – and just two weeks before all three tenants would move in – a blizzard with howling winds and sub-zero temperatures dumped several feet of snow on the area.

After the storm, I went to check on the vacant property and clear away the snow from the steps and sidewalk. When I entered the building, I heard something very strange.

Emotional Detachment You Don't Want to See

It sounded like a waterfall coming from the back of the house. I ran to the back and discovered that a water pipe on the third floor had frozen and cracked.

Water was flooding all three units and pouring down like a waterfall. There were pools of water several inches deep in the bedrooms and, as I stood there, watching my three months of hard work literally being washed away, I realized that I had two choices: overreact and get stressed out or stay calm and simply do what needed to be done.

Making Conscious Choices and the Value of Emotional Detachment

The natural response was to overreact and get stressed out. I was attached to all the hard work I had done. As I stood there, all the time and energy I put into this property was being destroyed, literally washed away in a few short minutes.

The second option required emotional detachment. It required letting go of the past and staying present, responding calmly to the situation and moving forward.

The second choice seemed far more practical, so I consciously choose that one.

After getting the water turned off and calling the insurance company, I hired several contractors. Within a week, all three units had been restored and were ready for the new tenants. They had no idea what just happened.

As if that lesson wasn’t enough to teach me the value of detachment, a few weeks later I received a voicemail from the insurance company telling me that, despite their verbal assurance that I was covered for the damage, broken water pipes were in fact not covered.

The $16,000.00 owed to the contractors was now on my shoulders.

This lesson of emotional detachment seemed to present itself over and over in the years that followed. Eventually, the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007 caused me to lose all three of my investment properties and file for bankruptcy.

At each step along the way, with every challenging situation that presented itself, the practical response was always the same: simply remain detached and respond to the situation at hand.

Those experiences led to my continued expulsion of material possessions and the rise of freedom and simplicity in my life. Every possession, goal, or idea that I released seemed to create a freedom-high.

As this happened, I began to see what really mattered to me.

I was saving money, creating investments, and climbing the career ladder for one goal: to eventually have the financial security to travel the world. But if I had remained attached to my idea of how to achieve that goal, I wouldn’t be living out of a small backpack and traveling the world right now.

The Biggest Lesson Learned

Whenever I’ve been attached to people, ideas, outcomes, or goals, the result has always been an over-complication of my life. The less attached I am to things, the easier it has been to simplify. So emotional detachment is the core principle that has added simplicity to my life.

When I became attached to my career path, I began to lose sight of what actually mattered to me. When I became attached to making money and ‘securing my future,’ my life quickly turned into a scattered mess of jobs and investments that sucked away my time and energy.

Only by releasing emotional attachment to those things did I discover true flow. Only by releasing attachment did I discover the true beauty and power of simplicity.

***

Raam Dev

Raam Dev is an explorer, thinker, and world traveling nomad. You may catch him crafting words in a cafe, running barefoot through a forest, or lost deep in thought wondering what it all means. Discover his latest work on RaamDev.com.

Photo Credit: Tone and Frodrig
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50 Responses to Emotional Detachment: How One Simple Man Learned a Powerful $16,000.00 Lesson

  1. Raam Dev says:

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this story, Joel! :)

    • The automatic response to this would be, “It was my pleasure!” But since we’re thoughtful folks, I thought about how to express my thanks for your wonderful writing. I came up with this: “It was my pleasure!;) Hopefully everyone notices the change of emphasis and the additional meaning.

      Raam, you’ve been not just an inspiration for me, but have actively moved me to make specific changes in my thoughts and actions. For this post and everything before it, thank you.

  2. Denise says:

    Great story! I’ve been attached to many, many things/people in the past and yes, it’s definitely complicated things. I’ve learned to let go when necessary.

    But, can you be too detached? Especially when it comes to people?

    Because material things, goals, and careers are lifeless/inanimate. When dealing with people, there are more considerations to take into account – like I wouldn’t want anyone to be overly attached to me, but I wouldn’t want to be treated like I’m disposable either.

    So, do you treat detachment differently when dealing with people vs. things?

    • Raam Dev says:

      Hi Denise,

      Fantastic question. I’ve put a considerable amount of time into thinking about this exact subject and what I realized is that we, our true self, is not something that we can even become *attached to*.

      The example my dad always uses is that of a mother and son: If the son gets in a car accident and loses half his body, does his mother suddenly love him half as much? Of course not.

      When we love someone, what we love isn’t material or even tangible. If we relate to people on that level — on the level of what’s real, true, and pure — then attachment and detachment are not even valid things to consider.

      I’ve also learned from past experience that when I feel attached to someone, I’m actually feeling insecure and afraid. I’m afraid of loss, so I automatically feel the need to grab, hold, and attach. If I recognize what I already have and learn to really love myself, then I don’t feel insecure. I’m not afraid that I’m going to lose something because I begin to recognize that the things I thought I “had”, weren’t really mine to be had at all.

      So when it comes to people, I try to relate on a level where attachment and detachment do not even apply. I try to relate on a level of respect, compassion, caring, love, equality.

      • Denise says:

        Beautiful response, thank you!

        I think my concern was about detaching & then possibly losing our sense of compassion, but that shouldn’t even be an issue when you’re relating with people the way you described.

        Great way to look at it!

  3. Angie says:

    Thanks for this post. Detachment is something I struggle with, but I’m working towards. I can do quite well without ‘things’: I no longer have the need to own anything that I can rent (for example, music, books, or movies). Owning less produces (for me) a wonderful feeling of lightness and freedom.

    I have to admit, in the situation of the burst water pipe, my response probably would have been to burst into tears! So I obviously need to get to work on being detached from completed work and planned outcomes…I’ll get there :-)

    • Hi Angie,

      It’s safe to say I wouldn’t have handled the burst pipe situation with as much grace and determination as Raam did. But I get more resilient and intentional about my thoughts through reading everything he puts out in the world.

      This sounds like a strange problem to have, but I don’t face much hardship. When it comes, and it always does sooner or later, I’m trying to prepare myself best to handle it. That’s why I consciously choose some forms of hardship from time to time. Actively preparing for the bad parts of life helps me navigate them when they actually occur. That’s my Stoicism talking.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Hi Angie,

      I’m happy you enjoyed this. :)

      Those feelings of “lightness” and “freedom” that you describe are exactly what kept up the momentum of my releasing things and detaching. When I ran out of physical things to detach from, I quickly looked for other ways that I may be attached.

      I think releasing planned outcomes (and even completed work) is all about recognizing that it’s in the past. Things in the past, as things in the future, are entirely out of our reach. We may feel an attachment to them, but that attachment isn’t real (because we can’t really “attach” to something that isn’t here… only ‘now’ is actually here).

  4. Travis says:

    .. It just seems that your priorities/goals/aspirations are too scattered. Of course your detached, you really have no choice at this point. You remind me of my friend- he’s pretty good at everything he does, but he never really sticks to one thing and sees it through. He’s also “detached”. It’s been years and he has no “career” or real direction in his life. Oh yeah, and your going to love this- Guess what this 35 year old genius is doing now- traveling the world! It’s so easy, why not? Here’s the real deal: so what you made some bad investments, big deal. Shoulda, woulda, coulda- you are an engineering genius, and master builder, and great web developer… Develop a career and stick to it! In the words of “Wall st.” – “Create something”. This traveling around nonsense will only lead to one place, you and I know it. It’s time to step up and be a man. Create. Period. It’s so heartbreaking to see talented people waste their abilities…

    • Travis,

      You can’t claim that Raam will come to the same conclusion you have. And besides, he and I subscribe to the school of thinking that “develop(ing) a career and stick(ing) to it” is not everyone’s idea of a good time. I did that for a decade and it didn’t work for me. Raam did that for a while and that didn’t work for him.

      Good thing I didn’t stick to my career until retirement. Otherwise, nobody would be reading this and Raam would never have known about my existence.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Travis,

      If we “create something” but that something doesn’t contribute to “a life worth living”, then was what we created really worth it?

      If we create things while being miserable with our life, that misery will rub off onto anything we create and those things we create will actually be spreading negativity.

      My current state of detachment is a conscious effort that I make every day. I do have a choice and I choose happiness, fulfillment, and sharing what I love over fulfilling societal expectations.

  5. Shanna Mann says:

    What I like about this story is that to what some people would represent a crushing blow that derails their whole life has been reduced to a footnote in yours, simply because of your ability to reframe, detach, and figure out what’s truly important to you.

    • I think I need to add “like” buttons to the comment section. I would totally click that button for this comment if I had one.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Thank you, Shanna. I actually think of those six years as more than a footnote: They feels more like a huge clump essential life lessons, coupled with the best wakeup call life could hand me. Had it not been for those six years, there’s a high probability I wouldn’t be living with the freedom, contentment, and happiness that I do now.

  6. Erin says:

    Wow. Just…wow. Thank you both for sharing this piece.

    This is going to sound odd, but: Every now and then, when I read something, I experience an almost physical sensation. It’s like the words flow through my entire being and wake it up, light it up somehow. My head clears, and the message of the piece is revealed as a personal truth I’ve just stumbled onto. That’s how reading this post and its related comments felt.

    I have been on my own personal sort of authenticity and action quest over the past few months. It started with a wake-up call, when I realized I was doing a whole lot of drifting and very little actual living. Then, my husband suggested we get rid of at least a thing a day each for the next year and post photos online to keep ourselves accountable. Those two things have combined in some totally unexpected ways, including a process of questioning a lot of what I hold onto and why I do so. It started out focused on relationships to physical things, but I can feel it seeping into deeper crevices. It is truly eye opening.

    What you’ve done here is sum up where I think I’m heading. It’s both a flash of a potential (ideal?) future and the rough outline of the road to get there.

    Sorry for not being particularly articulate. All I can say is: YES. And thank you :-)

    • Erin,

      If you want the “Joel Zaslofsky’s Best Of Raam Dev’s Hits” let me know. His site is a treasure trove of amazing writing.

      Knowing you, one thing I know you’ll appreciate for sure is “Forge Action”. Click the link and experience more wonderful sensations.

      http://raamdev.com/2012/forge-action/

    • Raam Dev says:

      Thank you, Erin! I’m so happy this resonated so well. :)

      I can definitely relate to that eye-opening feeling of releasing stuff. The only way I can describe how I felt after the bankruptcy and the subsequent months when I began releasing things is that it felt like a drug-high. I felt myself becoming addicted to getting rid of stuff.

      What I learned after reducing things down to the one bag I now travel and live with is that the real work begins beyond the physical level. Releasing now-invalid personal expectations and lifeless goals is far more difficult (and an on-going) process.

      • Erin says:

        I am starting to feel that deeper level, which is something I totally didn’t expect. I recently wrote about letting go of the identities I’d formed around the stuff I was getting rid of. It’s like everything in my apartment belongs to some ghost version of myself, and in all the noise I can’t hear my own actual self. It’s scary to clear them away, because what’s left when they’re gone? But it’s exciting and inspiring and freeing, too.

        Nowhere near one bag — not sure I ever will be — but what’s cool about this process is that it can start from anywhere, I think, and it will just pick up momentum if you feed it a little.

        Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom :)

  7. Bobbi Emel says:

    Raam, thank you for sharing this story – it’s very powerful.

    I love how you were able to be present and make choices based on mindfulness even though your world was falling down all around you. But I think the key is that you weren’t attached to the world you had created so the process of it falling did not defeat you.

    This has really made me think hard about what I’m hanging onto right now and how it would feel to let go and follow my heart.

    Thank you so much!

    • That’s some high praise from a woman as resilient as you Bobbi. I’d encourage you to turn those thoughts today into an action plan to address what you’re hanging on to in your life.

    • Raam Dev says:

      You’re most welcome, Bobbi. :)

      I love what you said about not being attached to the world I created. Looking back, that is definitely how I could describe my relationship to the real estate properties: unattached. I accepted my responsibilities towards maintaining them and interacting with the tenants, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to any of it.

      The lesson I’m learning now is that applying that same level of detachment to other things in life (goals, expectations, ideas) is far more challenging a task!

  8. Priska says:

    Raam’s story brought back memories. I was a Property Manager for twenty years and the burst water pipe, in various forms was a daily part of my life. Whilst I was good at detachment as far as getting the job done I never managed to detach properly from the owners of these properties, seeing their suffering in trying to make ends meet. I left that job as the global financial crisis came baring down as I knew that it would be the straw that broke the camels back.
    A daily walk, mindfulness meditation and writing have helped move on from the stress and restore some balance.

    • Very cool Priska. Thanks for sharing your own story and how you deal with the inevitable stress of life.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Priska,

      If there was one thing I had difficultly shouldering during those six years, it was the immense responsibility I had towards the tenants. I knew the houses were not in great shape to begin with, so I was always worried and thinking about what might go wrong to affect them: broken water pipes, clogged drains, mold, heating/AC systems, etc.

      I also had to be stern about collecting rent each month as that rent was how I paid the mortgage and I hated pestering people when I knew they were going through tough times.

      Part of the release I felt when it was all over was the release of all that responsibility. Mindfulness reminds me that shouldering an amount of responsibility that makes us unhappy and stressed out does far more harm than good for everyone around us.

  9. Priska says:

    Raam, you are very perceptive on many fronts.
    Yes, mindfulness brought into my awareness how extremely responsible I had been for such a long time.
    I thought that I was doing the right thing, taking care of business so that we could prosper in the future (which by the way never came).
    I am now aware of the detrimental impact this way of living had on myself and my family and feel much better about the choices I am now making.

  10. What an amazing post, Raam. That saying about “darkest before the dawn” truly applies to you. I find detachment difficult, but now I’ll remember your story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Thank you, Debra. When thinking about “darkest before the dawn”, I like to remember a lot of light preceded that darkness. ;) Our outlook never needs to be black and white… life is full of colors if we choose to see them.

  11. Ethan says:

    Wow, what an amazing story Raam! Interesting how that path of recurring devastation is what freed you to travel the world and do what you’re doing now. While I agree that it is extremely important to stay calm and somewhat detached in a high-stress situation, I also think that there has to be some time that you allow yourself to feel those emotions and get angry/upset/sad/etc. I would find it difficult to bury those strong emotions after such a traumatic event.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Hi Ethan,

      The only time I feel the need to experience negative emotions is when I’m attached to them, and not once in my life have I found attaching to negative emotions beneficial in any way.

      Also, I never try to “bury” emotions… I either embrace them or I release them. Burying emotions would only indicate that I don’t know what I should do with them and keeping so much emotion inside definitely isn’t healthy.

      I believe emotions have their purpose and the purpose of negative emotions, I believe, is to raise awareness. Once negative emotions have done their job of making me aware, I find that releasing them is the only healthy thing left to do.

  12. After reading your story, I have some conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m glad you found the upside to such tragic times in your life. Yet on a deeper level, I just feel sad for you. Attachment, especially to people/animals is so important in life, especially when it comes to parenting. If I was living a detached life, I would not be married right now. If I was detaching from people, neither of my children would have been born. If I was still living a detached life as you suggest, I would be dead by my own doing right now. My attachment to the life I lead is what has kept me here. When I have gotten to the point of detachment you describe is when I’m at my most suicidal. I’m not saying that you are, but I have come to a place where I find a lot of value in attachments to non-materials.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Hi Megyn,

      I love my life and I have never been happier than I am now with so few attachments. I do not understand how someone could feel suicidal through detachment, so I cannot even speak to that point. Detachment is something that I have learned actually makes me feel like I have more in life, not less.

      I’ve also learned that the most important things in life are not things we can even become attached to (love, happiness, compassion, etc.) and if we think we’re attached to them, we’re actually mistaking that for something else.

      I’m not a parent, so I cannot speak to that point either. However, I’ve learned in my relating with others that real love cannot be expressed fully unless we allow the other person to be. Real love comes through giving that person respect for who they are and through accepting them for who they are without judgement or expectation.

      Attachment only reduces my capacity to love because I start grabbing onto the very things I should be setting free. Nothing can really grow to its fullest potential unless it’s set free.

      I find there is no value in attachment itself. The real value is in the thing we’re attempting to attach to. But once we attach to it, we reduce its freedom and limit its potential and therefore decrease its value.

      • I think when you and I are talking about “attachment”, it’s coming down to semantics. In my view (from an evolutionary psychology & biology perspective), attachment is essential to survival. If we did not form attachments, far fewer children would survive. A mother attaching to their child is what allows that child to survive. A child attaching to his mother is what allows for healthy physical and mental development. I think what you are getting at is a level of attachment. You can still be attached to a person and allow them to live their life. For example, a father loves his child and is often attached to his child. When it comes time for that child to head off to college, they are still attached, but detach enough to allow that child to become an adult. The father doesn’t have to detach completely for the child to grow, as you suggest. If one were to truly fully detach, as you suggest you have, it would mean fully detaching emotionally. There would be no compassion, love, etc. THAT is what TRUE detachment is.

        • Raam Dev says:

          I disagree Megyn. Detachment has nothing to do with love or compassion, because true love and compassion do not arise from attachment.

          Attachment is something biological and chemical, whereas love and compassion go far deeper and extend into the metaphysical realms.

          I believe love is essential to survival, not attachment.

  13. Sarah says:

    Great story and great post, Raam. I love the concept of detaching from the past and detaching from ideas about how to achieve certain goals.

  14. ohhhh “Every possession, goal, or idea that I released seemed to create a freedom-high.”

    no easy task, but well worth it if you can learn the process! I have a LONG way to go, but I try everyday :-)

  15. What’s fascinating to me about this post is that you speak of attachment as a negative in your life, saying “When I’ve been attached to people, ideas, outcomes, or goals, the result has always been an over-complication of my life.” Yet psychologically, attachment is important to human beings, beginning from our early bond and attachment to our mothers, for example.

    What I read here is that you are VERY attached to meaningful goals, that you have the ability to ask yourself important questions about meaning, then take actions based on your values.

    Simply put, you’ve developed initiative, the ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions — rather than being led by people, ideas, outcomes, or goals that didn’t feed your soul. You act from internal rather than external rewards.

    I enjoyed the article! Congrats on learning how to overcome challenges and find purpose in life!

    • Hi Marilyn,

      Comments like yours are why I enjoy having this kind of blogging platform. if you read back through other people’s comments on Raam’s essay and see his responses, so much more context is provided. You may not be synthesizing the collective responses from all the other people who commented, but you sure give us a great summary from your perspective.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Raam’s essay! I did too along with just about anything Raam has ever written.

    • Raam Dev says:

      Thank you, for sharing your thoughts, Marilyn. :)

      As I mentioned in my reply to Megyn, I believe attachment and detachment have nothing to do with love or compassion, because true love and compassion do not arise from attachment.

      Attachment is something biological and chemical, whereas love and compassion go far deeper and extend beyond physical into the metaphysical realms.

      I believe love is essential to survival, not attachment. Psychologically, we associate love with attachment because we’re very limited in our ability to “define” love.

      I actually don’t think of myself as very attached to anything other than a love for life, purely and simply. I feel no strong attachment to goals, but I set goals and intentions that feel right to my core. At the same time, I’m constantly reevaluating what feels right and adjusting things accordingly (which would come with plenty of internal resistance if I was attached).

      I feel true detachment is about going beyond the physical and recognizing our metaphysical self. If we associate with that, then attachment becomes a facade not worth the trouble.

  16. Amit Amin says:

    Detachment is great – just don’t over do it!

  17. Jane says:

    I wish I had read this when my rental tenants squatted for 6 months, left the house infested with cockroaches and broke the keys off in the door. I love the idea of detachment – in a good way. A powerful lesson for me and most others. Glad you walked through this experience and came out whole. A lesson I will try to remember.

    • Raam Dev says:

      It’s all a learning experience, Jane. I had very little experience talking and socializing with people (I was a very shy, home schooled teenager), let alone any experience renting to people. My first tenant ended up being a drug dealer who in the end cost me $15,000 in lost rents and more headaches than I can even recall.

      I think the important part is to not focus on what appears to be negative and instead focus on what makes it a positive. Having experienced a tenant who squatted for 6 months, you now have everything you need to work towards avoiding that in the future. :)

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