| |


Having recently returned from retreat, I find myself reflecting on the nature of detachment. I guess the burning question in my mind is:

At what point does an individual’s ability to stay centred and calm tip over into self indulgence and, ultimately, a detached state?

As with so many things, there seems to be a sweet spot that we are aiming for, a place that we can return to again and again in which we are no longer hanging on to our self-limiting beliefs, but we’ve not become so detached from ‘reality’ that we lack awareness and the ability to be part of the whole.


At the centre of all of this self discovery is a place that has many names. Within my chosen practice of Zhineng Qigong we talk about Yi Yuan Ti, but we can draw parallels with the idea of Enlightenment or the discovery of our True Nature or our True Self. Some people might identify it as the Qigong State, or Bliss, as I said, it has many names but it has a number of common traits, most fundamentally it represents a state in which we are fully aware while remaining calm and centred.

The complete nature of the awareness that we are talking about is certainly not a detached state, however the nature of being calm and centred implies that we are not being buffeted by the emotions and thoughts related to attachments such as judgement and knowledge. The state appears to sit somewhere between the two, but it is only accessible by letting go of our attachments and avoiding getting stuck in a detached state. 

Attached and Detached?

Somewhat ironically the detached state is the result of attachment. When we hold onto an aspect of practice or an aspect of ourselves too tightly, it has the ability to create a single point of focus that then makes us blind to the bigger picture, and this is yet another of the beautiful traps that we find within the practice of qigong.

Within the Zhineng system’s 8 phrases (discussed here), we have a phrase, yī niàn bu qǐ. While it is usually translated as empty your mind, a more accurate translation is “not one thought arising”. This is not an invitation to block your thoughts, this is a suggestion that while a single thought is a good way to quieten the mind, the aim is to let go of that thought too and experience an empty mind. 

Another Beautiful Trap?

The beautiful trap here, is in not letting go of that single remaining thought, the beautiful trap is in blindly holding on to that thing that keeps you focussed and enables you to detach from the entirety that you are sitting in. You could say that the beautiful trap is once again a trap for the ego, a trap for the part of us that wants to be good at the practice, that part of us that wants us to be successful or effective. The unfortunate truth is that this is just another thing that we are attaching to that prevents us from experiencing our true nature.


This might make the process sound somewhat futile, but I would encourage you to persist. We all experience brief moments of Yi Yuan Ti, it may be in the turning of the breath or the space between thoughts. The trick is to enjoy them and allow them to last longer by not allowing the part of you that wants to be good at the practice from grasping at them. Simply enjoy and keep the words of the American Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in mind (but let go of these too at some point):

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey…

Similar Posts