The Beauty of Disinterest

What a strange title! The beauty of disinterest. Recently, I was reading an essay by a 14th-century Dominican Mystic (as one does) on the way to work. Rather I was listening, as I was driving at the time. His topic was on the importance of disinterest. Meister Eckhart described what was on his heart, despite the response he sometimes received. The instability of the Church at this time made any prognostications on theology very polarized. However, I digress.

Meister was a priest, philosopher, mystic, and scholar like no other. And he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. As a result, some of his teachings remain controversial to this day, but here I wanted to take you on his internal journey regarding disinterest.

Now disinterest is a very interesting word. (Excuse the pun here). It is because our modern vernacular often brings us to a disposition of “I don’t care”, “I will ignore the issue or person”, and “putting something aside”. These are just a few of the negative connotations, there are more of course. When we say the word, we even illustrate that not only do I not care, but I am going to “tune you out”. More negative thoughts here.

However, the way Eckhart was talking about the word had a huge spiritual and theological meaning. Eckert put disinterest very high on the list of where our hearts, minds, and souls needed to be in order to fully encounter God. By pitching our own interests and desires into touch, we would find ourselves ready and prepared to receive the divine which already beats within us. This was not just a disinterest in worldly goods, passions, or other needs that stroked our ego and “selfish nature” but trying to clear the deck completely. To create a blank slate where all we had written before could be erased so a new lesson could start. One written by God.

This driving interest in disinterest, (wow that does sound funny when you read it), made him put disinterest above all other virtues including Love! His thinking was if we leave the space open for God, then God’s love will pour into and out of us, purely by making way for this to happen. Even humility (which is always viewed as the ideal state for us to receive God into our lives), was second to disinterest in Eckhart’s world. Why is that? Well, he viewed disinterest as being a pre-requisite to humility, by clearing the decks of our own needs and desires, we would automatically place ourselves in a disposition of humility, and a humility without any needs, attachments, or expectations. This starts to make sense to me.

The word disinterest may be better described in the modern world as detachment or moving to a state of nothingness. It is this perhaps that upset the Church leaders of the time with his teachings. However, if we consider his intention behind all of this, to become closer and encounter God in all our interactions in the world, he can be forgiven for the misunderstandings of the day.

Eckert is not preaching total detachment, but rather an open detachment, surrender, and willingness to be open to God through a deliberate channel where the God within us, works through us.

So, the next time someone asks you if you are disinterested perhaps you may think is not such a bad thing. Food for thought?

An Unclear Window (Alcatraz, San Francisco, Federal Prison)

Reflection and image Copyright © 2023 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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2 thoughts on “The Beauty of Disinterest

  1. Meister Eckhart’s concept of disinterest appears to be similar or related to Buddhist (and other traditions) on freedom from craving and detachment from worldly desires as a way to attain a higher state of being or closer contact with God. More and more I see that there are universal truths present in many spiritual traditions expressed in slightly different ways.

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