27 Dec Qualities Of Awakening – Renunciation

In my own practice life, not to mention life itself, I am keenly aware of various themes that arise, and repeat again and again over time. A theme that presents itself all too often is the need to cultivate the quality of renunciation in all its richness and variety, in all situations I am faced with, on and off the meditation cushion and yoga asana mat.

Renunciation typically is not a word that many people find particularly inviting. Why would one want to give up something? What am I renouncing? In order to be “spiritual,” do I need to sell my car, leave my partner, give up coffee and alcohol, and pack all my belongings in a tiny felt bag?

Well, the answer is almost certainly a resounding no. For most people, at least. The very simple answer to what we are renouncing is, and let me put this in bold:

Anything that gets in the way of our own development as human beings.

And yes, that may well include any or all of the above. However, it’s far more likely to involve little habits and ways of doing things rather than giving up a whole bunch of our daily joys. For example, let’s look at coffee and alcohol. Now I know many people who are truly beautiful specimens of humankind. They are kind, caring, and bring joy to all around them. They also happen to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, with no ill effects. Asking them to give up that glass of wine is not only pointless, but actually harmful. It is giving them the message that the way they live their lives is not good enough, that they are not good enough. Even more important is looking at why we are asking them to give up drinking wine in the first place. Do we have some strange bias against all forms of alcohol? If so, why? Look deeper! Perhaps a really negative experience we had many years ago involved alcohol, so that a deep subconscious imprint (or samskara) was formed, and this imprint activates any time we see somebody drink alcohol.

As is hopefully obvious from these few words, what we renounce is incredibly, indelibly personal. To give you a personal example:

Early last year, I gradually found myself developing a fascination with the game of chess, to the point that I would often spend literally hours a week, sometimes even a day, playing the game online, with players around the world. Now this in itself is actually positive; chess allows me to develop parts of my mind I have not had the opportunity to previously. However, one aspect of my playing of chess did begin to be intensely unhelpful, that being the obsessive aspect. I couldn’t stop playing, was just playing game after game after game. If I lost a few in a row, I would justify to myself that I will keep playing until I win, then when I won, I would be inspired by the win, and play again. Far too often, this even cut into my meditation practice time, which was previously always an unheard of experience. Even when meditating, my mind started going over previous games rather than actually going deep into present moment experience of whatever I was sitting with.

So it was clear I had some renouncing to do. This pattern was unhelpful. I set a very simple rule. If I still had practice to do on any given day, I would not play chess. Only after all the meditation, asana, and pranayama was complete, would I embark on games of chess. I renounced the act of playing obsessively.

The result was over whelmingly positive. My meditation deepened considerably. My chess became much better, and more enjoyable. When in the grip of obsession, I wasn’t even enjoying the game any more! Now I found myself loving the flow of my days. The simple act of renouncing chess prior to my practice changed everything for me in a very positive way.

This is something I would suggest we all look at regularly. Take a quiet moment, no pressure, and just look over your life. What, if anything, requires renunciation? What do I need to let go of at present? What can I soften around in order to feel more free and open in the course of my life? Am I eating habitually rather than truly enjoying whatever passes my lips? Am I just answering people’s inquiries in how I am with, “fine” rather than actually looking within and giving an honest, truthful answer? Do I regularly spend too much time doing one particular activity? Do I speak or act dishonestly on a regular basis? What am I engaging in that I could renounce?

In many ways, renunciation truly is the beginning of any true human path (I am purposely avoiding the word “spiritual” here). Only when we allow at least some of our unhelpful habits to drop away, are we empty enough to fully receive a teaching. If we are too full up already, nothing else can fit!

So I will continue to examine what I can work with here. What I can allow to fall away in order for my own journey to unfold more easily and joyfully. I would strongly recommend you do the same.

I’m thrilled to be teaching a whole series of workshops this year, on the topic of the various qualities of awakening, the first being on this very topic, on Saturday the 27th of January, from 08:30-11:30. The plan is to intermesh various teachings on renunciation with actual practice within that approach, bringing together asana, pranayama and meditation. I hope to see some of you there!

In the spirit of renunciation,