Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

The Art of Detachment

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Richard Rohr calls for contemplative prayer to teach us the “art of detachment.” He stresses that in such prayer we don’t deny our feelings, but simply let go of their ultimacy:  

We need forms of prayer that free us from fixating on our own conscious thoughts and feelings and from identifying with them, as if we are our thinking. Who are we before we have our thoughts and feelings? That is our naked being. We have to learn to be spiritually empty, or, as Jesus says in his first beatitude, “How blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). If we are filled with ourselves, there is no room for another, and certainly not for God. We need contemplative prayer, in which we simply let go of our constantly changing ego needs, so Something Eternal can take over.  

This may sound simple, but it’s not easy! Because we’ve lost the art of detachment, we’ve become almost fully identified with our stream of consciousness and our feelings. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying we should repress or deny our feelings. I’m challenging us to name them and observe them, but not to directly fight them, identify with them, or attach to them. Unless we learn to let go of our feelings, we don’t have our feelings; our feelings have us.  

We might ask: “What does this have to do with God? I thought prayer was supposed to be talking to God or searching for God. This seems to be saying prayer is about getting myself out of the way.” That is exactly what I am saying. As John the Baptist put it, “I must grow smaller so he can grow greater” (John 3:30). [1] 

To any of us comfortable people, detachment sounds like losing, but it is actually about accessing a deeper, broader sense of the self, which is already whole, already content, already filled with abundant life. This is the part of us that has always loved God and has always said “yes” to God. It’s the part of us that is Love, and all we have to do is let go and fall into it. It’s already there. Once we move our identity to that level of deep inner contentment and compassion, we realize that we’re drawing upon a Life that is larger than our own and from a deeper Abundance. Once we learn to do that, why would we ever again settle for some scarcity model for life? [2]  

God is already present. God’s Spirit is dwelling within us. We cannot search for what we already have. We cannot talk God into coming “to” us by longer and more urgent prayers. All we can do is become quieter, smaller, and less filled with our own self and our constant flurry of ideas and feelings. Then God will be obvious in the very now of things, and in the simplicity of things. To sum it all up, we can never get there, we can only be there. [3] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016), 230–231. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2010). Available as CD. 

[3] Rohr, Spring within Us, 231.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Margi Ahearn, Exercise on Grief and Lamentation. McEl Chevrier, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

I have used the “Daily Meditations” as a contemplative aid for about the last ten years, but the ones for the last three weeks have spoken very directly to my current situation. I retired earlier this month from the job I had for the last twenty-one years. This retirement, while welcomed on one level, was unexpected and largely unplanned. I am now, like Jonah, in the whale’s belly, uncertain where I will land. I have to acknowledge my powerlessness in this situation. In order to find the next step, I have to set aside my “knowledge” and adopt a “beginner’s mind.” The assurance that what is happening is a normal and necessary “death” gives me confidence in God’s resurrection in my life. —Phil K.  

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.