External Detachment For Internal Freedom
Updated: May 21
One day, Alexander the Great went for a stroll in a Greek city, where he found a philosopher who lived in a barrel. The philosopher had barely anything but basic food, and his only companions were stray dogs.
Alexander and the philosopher spoke with each other, and eventually Diogenes, the philosopher,
asked Alexander, "What is your ambition in life?"
"My ambition is to conquer the entire world," Alexander replied.
The philosopher laughed at the fearless hero and told one of his dogs, "Look at him. He needs to have the entire world in order to be happy!"
Funny, isn't it? Many of us have plenty of ambitions, and many of us delude ourselves that achieving these dreams will make us happy. We think that if we get A and B, we will also get C, the very thing we desire.
But look, a guy who lives in a barrel, urinates in public, and has very little in his life can be happy and satisfied with his life even without planning world domination. Of course, world domination is a very far-fetched goal, and in fact, no one in history has successfully achieved it other than us humans as a race. However, it can also be interpreted as any other worldly goal we so seek, believing it will bring us true salvation from the current state we are in (or believe we are in).
On the contrary, look at us, the consumers, who pay sums after sums of money on plenty of things just to feel like our lives are actually going somewhere and we feel more meaningful. I myself am no exception. It is a learned habit to not make our own food when we have great eateries; to buy very expensive games when there are free games around the net that can still give us the same amount of fun. And the list goes on. Why would we aim so high?
Because otherwise it would be considered a "compromise," when our lives are limited in duration, and there is much to "catch" and experience, while in reality these "compromises" could, in theory, give us the same functionality.
What if we could all be happy even if we had very little? Not necessarily like Diogenes, the barrel-dwelling philosopher, but like in a more moderate manner, that can save us much time and money? What if we learned to view ourselves as meaningful internally instead of externally, as beings that exist beyond their acquisitions, beyond their various "conquests"? Do we really need to have that degree, have that car, have that romantic partner, have that sex, have whatever else for us to find meaning in our lives?
If so, how come a person who lived in a barrel was happy and found meaning? It is because he found it inside of himself; as a walking, self-sufficient "reactor."
Everything external to us will one day cease to exist, and when we ourselves cease to exist, all the things we had and produced are no longer ours, and do not come with us after our death. All that we had and created would eventually be inherited by someone else, and our ownership over them would no longer be intact. Eventually, our legacies would fade as well, even after countless successors, due to the simple rule that nothing truly lasts forever.
Regardless of our socio-economic state, with much internal effort, we all can be happy, i.e., be filled with the sense that our lives have meaning, without necessarily needing anything outside of us, not even the things and people we value the most.
After I log into Quora and see that I have more views, upvotes, followers, and so forth, I am quite happy, to be honest, but I do not view it as meaning, because all of these statistics are external to me, and I have no control over them. Why should we depend our mentality and emotional state on things we have no control over? Why, in comparison, should I depend my happiness on my financial state? Of course, the Quora statistics, like my money, belong to me, but they are not a part of my inner state.
My inner state is not affected by my possessions or my Quora stats, simply because I see no reason in risking my overall happiness over things I cannot control, whether they increase or decrease in either quality or quantity. It is fluid, and should you hold it in your hand, it will evade through the space between your fingers, no matter how firm your grip of it will be. Expect nothing to last throughout your lifetime, and you will barely be disappointed by anything, once it's gone for good.
However, there is something we can control: ourselves and our reactions to the outside currents and happenings. Even if I am in deep poverty, as long as I choose not to react negatively to it, or to create a negative perspective towards it, I will not be negative, and therefore, will not be miserable, like some may choose to be.
We need to create and preserve an inner core within us that will not, or at least be very minimally affected by the external happenings around us, for the good and for the bad. That is how we will be able to optimally endure life and its dynamic occurrences.
My advice is this: stop putting your happiness and overall satisfaction over external things, even if these things are your property and belong to you. Just because they belong to you does not mean they are a part of you, and when they would disappear from your world, a part of yourself won't go along with it if you don't let it; if your inner core is strong enough to triumph over external fluidity.