An Experiment in Renunciation

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Every spiritual tradition I know of recommends some form of renunciation. But what does that mean? Is it giving up your hair, your luxuries, your house? It could be—but it could also be something more encompassing.

One possible meaning is that renunciation is deciding to free yourself from the illusion that those things—or any thing or situation—will be the cause of lasting happiness. It could be giving up the story that when you have finally managed to acquire enough wealth, health, relationships, or experiences, you’ll be safe and happy, once and for all.

Renunciation could be the decision to stop using all our energy to protect a self that doesn’t exist. To leave the mythical safe-space of I, me and mine. To stop blocking, closing, shutting down and ducking to avoid all the things that threaten us. Maybe it’s a kind of relocating our center to be better positioned to meet things as they are.

Maybe renunciation is not a contraction, not a restriction, but an expansion of some kind? Maybe it’s not just eliminating, but also including? Maybe renunciation is a decision to love and include; to meet whom we encounter and to feel what we feel.

Maybe renunciation is based in time—in letting go of the hope for a better past, or a pre-meditated fantasy-future and settling into each moment with pliancy and ease.

Could it be that in the end, renunciation is letting go of our allegiance to the causes of suffering? To finally give up the idea that if we’re just more determined, diligent or clever in the pursuit of happiness, that we’ll finally figure out a way to grasp and reject and still live a life of joy and freedom?

We renounce by letting go of the things that hurt ourselves and others. But we can only do this when we see the connection between our grasping and our suffering. Then it will be easy. A woman who is holding a hot rock will drop it; she will not pause to think. When her skin blisters, she will not need to muster discipline. In the moment of discovering the cause of her suffering, not only will she drop the rock in her hand, she won’t pick up the next one quite so readily.

What is renunciation?

What have you renounced thus far and why? What was your intention [if you had one] and what was the actual result?

What is the feeling in the body and mind when acquiring and renouncing? What questions do you have?

Experiment with a heart of renunciation and see what you learn. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep at it. Don’t rely solely on thinking; take action. Let go and look. Don’t draw conclusions, just notice your experience evolving.

Photo by Lekshe - feel free to use it

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