How I got the detachment spell

by Wolf Pascoe on September 22, 2011

illusion vs life


Right up at the top there, under the title Just Add Father, it says the word mindful.

A lot of nerve I have, using that word. I dream, hope, and aspire to see with clarity, but sort of stumble on and on, in a fog of unknowing. Oblivious is my middle name.


One day I found myself looking at a drawing, a comic book sort of drawing, reproduced above, which I immediately recognized as myself. It’s a diagram of how mindfulness goes awry.

Above the horizontal line is the realm of illusion, the quest for the perfect life. That’s me, questing. Or you. Pick an image to go in the questing frame: the perfect life, job, lover, child, the perfect house, the perfect you. Doesn’t matter.

I can’t tell you how miserable I’ve been made by the ideal images I hold in my head. Perfection doesn’t move. It’s marble constant, as fixed and out of reach as the North Star.

Below the line is real life. It’s constant movement, going from one little circle, one event, one project, one encounter, one whatever, to another. The dots inside the little circles? I love this—they’re little turds. Which is what real life is full of. Michelle Obama’s life? Turds. Warren Buffet’s life? Turds. Brad and Angelina’s life? Turds.

Barry Michels and Phil Stutz, the therapists who came up with the drawing, suggest looking at it every morning. Not so much to point out that life is little turds, although that’s not bad. But to encourage mindfulness. This is what Michels says:

You’ll become more accepting of yourself and stop judging yourself against an impossible standard. You’ll deal with difficulties calmly and rationally as a natural part of life. You’ll begin to feel a sacred kind of wisdom in events, even the bad ones. This builds faith.

I get disappointed a lot. I need faith. That’s what appeals to me here. Enlightenment? Give me turds. I can believe in turds. Welcome to Earth.

Michels and Stutz have other drawings. Ever since I encountered them, I’ve wanted to mention them here. I’ve hesitated because there’s such an abundance of advice in the bloggy sea, the nine billion names of happiness and so on, and most of it does no good.

But I like these drawings. First of all they’re drawings, worth a thousand words. Second, they’re so dopey and unpretentious looking that you drop your guard. They lull you in, and the sagacity sneaks up on you. People said that about Abraham Lincoln.

I made a booklet out of the drawings, a sort of talisman, to carry with me. I looked at it every day for month. Then I got it. The drawings are not advice. They’re spells.

I was carrying a book of spells.



loss processingThe one to the left is called Loss Processing. It’s the follow-up to the first drawing. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of things: possessions, people, perfection, wounds. I process loss daily.

The little man in the bubble at the top is me, or you, holding on to something. But really, it’s already lost. What’s needed is the spell for detachment. It works like this: Imagine holding the object of attachment, then let go of it. You fall. You fall backward through space, through grief, regret, unimaginable terror. Fall and fall and fall, right into the sun, and be vaporized. Annhilated. Pfff.

All that’s left is your consciousness, which is now merged with the sun.

I’m always having to let go of my big plans, all the recognition and rewards I don’t get. I know that when I allow the experience, it feels terrible. Annihilation, as an outcome, is pretty bleak. But something else happens in the drawing.

“Feel the tremendous force of the sun radiating outwardly,” says Michels, “Expanding you limitlessly.”

You’re already in the sun, annihilated but still sentient, apparently. Might as well let the sun work on you. It sounds too hokey to take seriously, but every time I do it I feel better. I tried it once with my father as the object I had to let go of.

I felt better.

Michels again:

This tool should be used whenever you find yourself obsessing about whether you’ll get or keep an object. You can also use it after a loss has occurred, including the death of a loved one. A third use is to make yourself non-attached before an important event whose outcome you’re unsure of.

See? Spells.

What does any of this have to do with raising kids?

Try to be serious.



How to write a poem a day



Hollywood Shadows. New Yorker profile of Michaels and Stutz.

Michels’ and Stutz’s drawings. They’re working on a book. But these will have to do for now. The versions I’ve reproduced here are pale imitations of the real thing.


Do you have any spells? Unburden yourself. Just Add Father is listening.

Add your comment below. I always respond here.


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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff skorman September 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

They tell me that mindfulness is just slowing down.


Wolf Pascoe September 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Once I very slowly put the car keys in the freezer.


David September 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm



Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm

You too, eh?


Privilege of Parenting September 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

Feeling synchronistic resonance and the spirit of love in this honesty and offering. Just this morning I had been thinking, again, about how the sun will one day go red giant and vaporize the earth, or so the astronomers tell us. Perhaps the earth is our mother and the sun our father, and perhaps 400 million years is no time at all, and perhaps we can just hug mother earth and love her, and each other, well and in a spirit of expanded Self until the archetypal father envelops her, and all us children, back into vaporizing togetherness. A silver lining in a turd world.


Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

This is exactly what Alvy Singer’s mother should have told him in Annie Hall, when he wouldn’t do his homework because the universe was expanding. (“What’s the point?”)


Barbara S. September 23, 2011 at 12:58 pm

You begin letting go of your children the moment you lay eyes on them. The cool thing is, quite often you end up with more than you let go of. One of life’s mysteries.
I love these drawings. Although I don’t really want to separate myself from something too soon – you might not experience as much pain, but you’ll for sure miss out on some of the joy.


Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm

It isn’t Nick I want to learn to let go of, just my big plans for him!


Barbara S. September 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Ah, now, that’s tougher. Better try your best to let go of those now and save yourself while you can – except for guidance and support from you, you know his future is his own, not yours, to plan! Sigh.


Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Letting go of Nobel prizes . . . [falls into sun]


Sirena September 23, 2011 at 4:33 pm

There’s a lot to be said for being oblivious, even if you end up putting your car keys in the freezer. If you see miracles, you will get miracles. If you see turds and focus on turdness, you will no doubt have turds. It seems that all great and successful people have had an unwaivering focus on what they wanted and never for a moment gave a thought to NOT getting it. So, there you have my overly Realm of Illusion view of life. Love the drawings. Think happy thoughts!


Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm

It seems that all great and successful people have had an unwaivering focus on what they wanted and never for a moment gave a thought to NOT getting it.

In one of their other drawings, “String of Pearls,” Stutz and Michels address this. I think they would sort of agree with the above, provided each little effort along the way is invested with significance. Baby steps.


David September 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Ah, annhilation. Ah, pfff.
Oooooooh, expansion!


Wolf Pascoe September 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

You hear the gentle pfff sound, and then you are no more.
After that, you hear the Oooooooh sound, and you are expanded.


Sirena September 24, 2011 at 8:25 am

BE rather than DO. RELAX rather than STRUGGLE. BREATHE rather than TRY.


Wolf Pascoe September 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Surrender, Dorothy!


ChopperPapa September 24, 2011 at 8:53 am

Interesting post. I think just as big if not bigger question is where our the vision of our ideal self spawns from? Are us determining who we should be by our own ideas and beliefs or by what we think others believe?

Everyday I try to live by my own set of standard and my self not by what others say I should be.


Wolf Pascoe September 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Oh, to have “what people think of me” be over!


pamela September 24, 2011 at 11:50 am

I sure did need this today! Thank you!!!!!! Such a relief to know we are not alone in this world. I always think everyone else has their act together and I am the only one who forgot to sharpen the pencils. Thanks for reminding me we are all coming up against the wall of perfection and banging out heads. xoxoxo


Wolf Pascoe September 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm



Sirena September 25, 2011 at 10:11 am

YES! Let’s all stop struggling and end the resistance! I wish that was as easy to do as to say….


Wolf Pascoe September 25, 2011 at 11:00 am

As President Eisenhower once said, I couldn’t fail to disagree less.


BigLittleWolf September 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

What any of this has to do with parenting?

I imagine a day or two (or more) of sick child takes the word “mindful” and replaces it with miserable, not to mention the fog of unknowing which I find to be the one constant of parenting… and then again, maybe the one constant of living – and doing so “mindfully” oddly enough.

As for circles, voodoo drawings, slowing down, lecturing myself on slowing down, and detachment? Screw it all. Some of us are made for feeling – pointedly, precariously, and passionately – about everything.

I accept it.

Come to think of it, I’m begrudgingly content with that aggravating state of affairs.


Wolf Pascoe September 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I told you I had a lot of nerve using the word mindful.


Tom October 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Hi Wolf, that drawing of falling into and being consumed by the sun exactly mirrored a dream (or should I say nightmare) I used to have as a young boy. I would wake up at night, terror-stricken, feeling that I had been swallowed by the sun. My memory is that as the sun got ever bigger, I got ever smaller. Years later, I attributed the childhood dream to my fear of nuclear annihilation (I grew up in the era of duck ‘n cover). But now as I look at the simple drawing in your post, I can see a new interpretation to the dream.


Wolf Pascoe October 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Who says things don’t improve? Ordinary annihilation is such an advance over nuclear.


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