In Buddhism, renunciation has an important role in the development of an ethical life, it is one of the ten perfections of the heart, also known as paramis, and it is the underpinning of the five mindfulness trainings, as I understand them. However, renunciation often has this tone of severity associated with it – it indicates that giving up is a sort of punishment or self-denial that we should do to be a good citizen, a good meditator or a good person.
Personally, I tend to turn away from anything I should do. However, increasingly I find that renunciation actually protects my mind and heart, and makes me more mindful when I am making choices, so that I can make choices that are skillful. For example, in choosing not to shop/browse the internet/watch late night TV when I was tired on Monday night, I ended up listening to my body and going to bed early. I woke up feeling nourished, less distracted and it helped me enjoy my next day with more energy for the things that mattered to me.
Notice, I said, choosing not to. Sometimes, when we can’t choose skillfully, and are driven through reactivity to act in our habitual ways, like I was last night, I noticed that I could still renounce judging and limiting thoughts by letting go and choosing to forgive myself.
And when I choose to let go of self blame, I notice that I have more kindness and compassion for myself and others.
Renunciation can be through big or little actions. It can be giving up wanting to make our tea or food exactly the way we like it, so that we can simply enjoy the tea (or dinner) for what it is. It can be giving trying to have the house perfectly tidy and spending time with our loved ones instead. It can be giving up trying to make this piece for the blog perfect, so that it can simply be what it is. Honest, authentic, imperfect and alive in this moment.
Choice is freedom. When we choose the path of wholeness and ask ourselves if we really need something, and connect with a sense of abundance and gratitude, we find it easier to let go. And when we let go – whether it is thoughts, emotions, stories, beliefs – that release feels so good! Suddenly we are not so caught up in our stories. We are free. And when we notice how pleasurable this feels, renunciation gets easier. We do it not because we should, but because we want to. And we find increasing freedom in this way.