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 Blooming Stars

Holy Indifference Affective Detachment

            Holy indifference is a very important sign of spiritual health. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and the author of Spiritual Exercises, gave utmost importance to holy indifference. His book pioneered retreats among Christians. He stated that one should be indifferent with regard to long or short life, poverty or wealth, and sickness or health in the service of God and humanity. In fact one should be indifferent to praise or blame, honor or dishonor, good or bad reputation, and recognition or neglect. God alone knows the intentions of a human being. God alone makes judgments that are a hundred percent correct. Humans can and do err. We have numerous examples of innocent persons executed and criminals set free all over the world. That alone should argue against death penalty if nothing else. An action well-performed is its own reward. Being human we all look for a positive outcome from a deed. It is alright to expect a positive outcome, but one should not be unduly attached to the fruit of one’s actions. This is also what is indicated by nishkamakarmavritti(not attached to the fruits of actions) in Bhagavad Gita.

            One is not indifferent in the sense one does not care about what one does. One is optimally motivated and involved in what one does. Over-motivation or under-motivation as well as over-involvement or under-involvement spells disaster and paves the way for the opposite of what one looks for. Two examples come to my mind. A politician or someone else who keeps on endlessly rambling in speech on stage massaging his/her ego is unconcerned; on the other hand, someone overly concerned and self-conscious suffers stage-fright, freezes, and cannot utter a word. A man going through a forest inhabited by ferocious wild animals is over-confident and therefore unconcerned and not cautious enough meets with the same fate, namely an attack, as another man who is so frightened that he freezes and cannot run when the wild animal approaches. Both over-motivation and under-motivation are bad. So a balance is called for. One answer St. Ignatius provides is: Do everything as if everything is dependent on you; once done, leave everything to God as if everything is dependent on God.

            Life is made up of successes and failures. We are told that failures can be stepping stones to successes if we do not lose our hearts. The familiar story of despondent King Bruce who was defeated in battles several times took courage from a spider. That spider did not give up and succeeded after several unsuccessful attempts at jumping to reach its destination in a cave that Bruce fled to. I have stated elsewhere that success (a good outcome) can come after or as a result of failure (misfortune). And sometimes the failure is the price that we pay for the success that we are looking for. In any case a level of indifference that is unholy as well as a level of anxiety that is undue can cause enormous amount of emotional and mental problems. Our involvement in everything that we do needs to be optimal and balanced. Affective detachment is the psychological term I use for holy indifference.


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