I was raised Roman Catholic and for the first nine years of my schooling I went to a Catholic School. We had confession twice a month, said rosaries, and opened some morning lessons with The Lord’s Prayer. Every spring our religious studies would shift focus towards Easter. We were often asked to give something up for Lent to mourn Jesus’ death and to prepare for his ascension. I tried giving up creamsicle bars and television. I did so for about 24 hours and then proceeded to enjoy The Cosby Show while sucking on tasty orange ice cream pops throughout the remaining four weeks of Lent . I rationalized that my floppy commitment gave me something to talk about in the confessional.
Without knowing its psychological benefits, few will find any more resolve practicing renunciation than I did at eight years old. Had my schoolteachers presented the story of Jesus’ death allegorically and shown how his crucifixion and resurrection symbolized a huge religious, political and paradigmal shift for the Hebrews, I might have seen the purpose behind giving up ice cream for a month. Dying to old ways of being only to realize a new truth is one of the most overlooked and one of the most profound teachings of Jesus.
Now I practice yoga instead of saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers, and I’ve got a new lease on abstinence and non-attachment. Sometimes I actually look forward to periods of renunciation.
The purpose of yoga is to still the mind. The means by which to still the mind is by weakening our afflictions. We weaken afflictions through our yoga sadhana (practice). Patanjali’s logic is that if our desires (raga) are holding us prisoner (sex, food, alcohol, relationships, money, status), then the best way to be free from their grasp is to simply let them go—willingly. This is the rationale behind tapas (austerities) like fasting, meditation, asana, and silence. As we go without eating, drinking, speaking or seeing people we do so with great love for ourselves knowing that the pain of renunciation is like the pain of childbirth. To endure the pain of the death of the small self results in the realization of Who We Really Are.
Renunciation works in a cyclic nature in order to bring us closer to the things we are most attached to (raga) and to the things we most fear (dvesha). For example, this spring I gave up eating rich foods, including sugar, dairy, and alcohol. This led to not eating out, which led to not seeing people, which led to feeling pretty lonely after about three days. So then I find that I’m really on a relationship-fast, and I feel like total shit. Questions arose like, “Why am I so attached to being with others? Why can’t I sit alone? What am I afraid of?” One could stop here and say that I’m just afraid of being alone, but let’s take it a step further. What is it about being alone?
A great sadness came over me once I resigned myself from getting in touch with anyone. Letting go of fear-based reactions, I saw quite clearly what was happening. I called Yoko, a like-minded friend and fellow teacher and said to her, “I’m afraid of disappearing.” I’m afraid if there is no one to see me, then “I” don’t exist. Knowing this, it’s clear that almost all of my past actions have been to win the affections of those around me. Keeping people close, the image I have worked so many years to maintain is reaffirmed. This is my asmita. I am attached to my-self.
Yogini. Kind. Deep. Smart. Perfect. Good.
If I keep giving people what they want to see, I will keep getting the feedback my ego needs to survive. If I stop feeding the thing that holds me prisoner, then I stand free. Standing free means that one’s happiness is not defined by other people or by any set of fluctuating circumstances.
Please join Yoko and I this coming Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 5:30 PM for our monthly satsang atPurple Yoga. Our topic this month is attachment, non-attachment and renunciation. Bring your stories, thoughts, and questions to this open forum. We look forward to gathering together in truth with you.