"You have the ability to own things but nothing owns you."
When Eckhart Tolle speaks of detachment, he teaches that our identity, from the early years of childhood, is built by attaching ourselves to things or ideas that resonate with us. This is like decorating your home. I choose furnishings and decor that speak to my sense of style and comfort. When I can no longer define myself without these adornments, I am attached.
Why is attachment so bad?
Happiness that is dependent on external things is always in danger of being lost. The things that "make us happy" might get lost, or broken or become unavailable. What we need to cultivate is a sense of happiness that comes from an internal source. Happiness needs to be our homeostasis.
If I have attached myself to being smart, I may feel a sense of loss of control when I fail a test. If I attach myself to looking a certain way physically, a bad hair day might have me feeling out of touch with my sense of purpose.
As we explore our our true self, we begin to see that the things we choose don't define us. The roles I choose to play (mother, wife, daughter, dancer, artist, friend, teacher, student) are just roles. The real me is the actor playing those roles.
In my teen years I thought that if I had a certain lifestyle where I lived in the right house, drove the right car, had the best vacations it meant I would automatically be happy. As an adult I know with certainty that those things don't cause happiness. Fortunately for most upper-end marketers, the majority of our population in North America still associates a certain label, a certain lifestyle, a certain income with guaranteed happiness.
So How Do We Get Out of This Thought Pattern
The first step to practicing detachment is recognizing that we control our thoughts, they don't control us. Everything that comes at us is just stimulus that we filter through a belief based on our past experience or things we have heard from others. Based on this belief we have a response. Since we don't control all the stimulus, in order to effect change we need to examine the belief to see if it is useful for us. If the response is in line with our true self the belief is useful. If not we need to consider changing the belief.
The second step is letting go of any need to change the past. The past has no power but our recurring thoughts about the past can keep us from moving forward in life.
The third step is to release any need to be perfect. Remind yourself of all the things you would not have accomplished if you hadn't failed first, like walking, speaking, printing & writing. None of these essential skills came on the first try. So why, as adults, do we see an unsuccessful attempt as failure? Reminding ourselves of where we have been resilient in life will strengthen our ability to become resilient again.
The last step is to remember the ebb and flow that courses through every portion of the universe. We need to let go of attachment to who we are before we can settle in to our highest self. It's like trying to carry a big bundle of sticks. When you are struggling to hold on to them, you cannot possibly catch another one. But if we let go of the burdens we carry (like fear, anger, hurt or pride) we are then free to open our arms widely and receive.
HINT- It is a practice. You don't get fit the first time you work out at the gym. You may need to "work out" your mind a few times before the thought pattern you desire is easy. But just like learning to drive, with some time spent practicing, soon you won't even have to think about it!