There is an old story about a Zen monk who was waiting to greet the emperor of Japan. Just before the emperor arrived, he turned to a fellow monk and said, “I’ll be back later.” “Later” turned out to be 12 years. When his peers asked where he’d been, why he’d left, he explained, “As I waited for the emperor, I felt my palms begin to sweat. I knew that I was attached to social roles because my body was tense. I’ve been meditating to lose that attachment. I came back as soon as I could.”
In our culture, we often think that detaching from something means that we are less devoted to it, that we love it less.
The monk’s story comes from the opposite perspective; when we are attached to people’s roles we cannot see them from a place of simple compassion.