Category Archives: Renunciation

Day of Rest

michoudlanetreeI am slowly learning to be comfortable with my own imperfection. It’s not easy. I want to do things well, do them right. I put a lot of effort towards quality. I pay attention to every detail. I try so hard.

And it’s not working for me. I don’t mean that I’m falling short of perfection. What I mean is that it’s not workable, not sustainable, not healthy to try so hard all the time. It’s incredibly confusing and overwhelming when every single thing matters so much.

For example, for yoga teacher training next weekend, I have to create three vinyasas, a series of yoga poses that would take about 10-13 minutes to teach. Then next weekend, I’ll need to be ready to teach one of them to a small group. This is on top of our regular homework. I have been trying to get them finished for the past few weeks, but I’m struggling. I have the vinyasas created, but I think they are too long, and I haven’t had a chance to practice teach them or even practice them myself as much as I’d like.

I’ve done less yoga since I started yoga teacher training than I have at any other time in the past six years. I’ve also been struggling to keep up with a regular meditation practice. Yesterday when I was working, I started to feel that familiar panic — the tightness in my chest and throat, the floaty feeling in my head, the tension throughout my body, the tears that are always just on the verge of spilling over.

Then I remembered the Buddhist approach to renunciation. In other traditions, renunciation is about giving everything up, living a life of lack and restriction, but in Buddhism, it’s not that at all. Instead it’s about no longer rejecting or resisting. Renunciation is about saying “yes” to our life, exactly as it is. Pema Chödrön explains it this way,

The journey of awakening—the classical journey of the mythical hero or heroine—is one of continually coming up against big challenges and then learning how to soften and open. In other words, the paralyzed quality seems to be hardening and and refusing, and the letting go or the renunciation of that attitude is simply feeling the whole thing in your heart, letting it touch your heart. You soften and feel compassion for your predicament and for the whole human condition. You soften so that you can actually sit there with those troubling feelings and let them soften you more.

The whole journey of renunciation, or starting to say yes to life, is first of all realizing that you’ve come up against your edge, that everything in you is saying no, and then at that point, softening.

I’ve certainly been up against my edge these past few months, (years?). As I contemplate renunciation, I look for the places where I can soften, be more gentle with myself. The first thing that comes to mind is my yoga teacher training homework, and how tightening up around that, pushing myself, being critical and mean, beating myself up in relation to it isn’t at all what yoga is about. It isn’t what practice is about.

I let go. I take a breath and come back. I start again. I soften.

Day of Rest

Being a dis-ordered eater sucks. Sometimes I get so sick of it, so tired of trying to change that I sink into feeling I will never ever ever be rid of this way of being. And to be clear, it isn’t even about the restricting and binging, isn’t about food at all, but rather my struggle to process the intensity of my experience, to control what is impossible to contain, to soothe myself, comfort the feeling of overwhelm, numb the sadness, the suffering caused by both too much and not enough.

I was really feeling this yesterday morning. In a few weeks, Andrea Scher is going to take some pictures for me, of me, and I am starting to feel a whole lot of anxiety around that. I’m not happy with how I look right now, have no idea what I’m going to wear, keep calculating how much weight I could lose if I starved myself and did extra cardio for the next few weeks, “you are obese” ringing in my head even though I am the same size as the average American woman. It’s exhausting.

When I pulled a card from my tarot deck, like I’ve been doing every morning, I asked for help, for clarity and guidance, asked how I can shift this situation. I pulled the Mother of Swords, “Sharp Perceptions,” with the warning that there’s “a potential for her criticism to soar.” Very clearly the message was that I have the power to heal myself through awareness but that I have to be gentle, practice self-compassion, not slip into smashing myself to bits — again, it’s not really about healing my relationship with food but rather with myself.

motherofswordsAnd this healing isn’t about restriction or control or change at all, it’s about renunciation. By that I mean the Buddhist concept of renunciation, which is not just rejection of something but rather a way of saying “yes” to life, to feeling, to the present moment and whatever it might bring. In her book The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World, Pema Chödrön says,

Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “Renunciation is realizing that nostalgia for samsara is full of shit.” Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited petty world is insane.

…that’s fundamentally renunciation: learning how to let go of holding on and holding back.

We don’t, out of fear of the unknown, have to put up these blocks, these dams, that basically say no to life and to feeling life.

The whole journey of renunciation, or starting to say yes to life, is first of all realizing that you’ve come up against your edge, that everything in you is saying no, and then at that point, softening. This is yet another opportunity to develop loving-kindness for yourself.

There is something in this concept of renunciation, this coming up against my edge, this shift from rejecting to letting the world touch me, allowing myself to be vulnerable, softening and opening, that makes me want to lean in.

compassionquoteSo there it is, the perfect example of how my sharp perceptions will facilitate healing. I got the card and in thinking about what it meant, I pretty immediately thought of renunciation, and knew the way Pema describes it would be the place to look, and it totally makes sense as the key and ties back to the card, how it says that there is the potential for criticism to soar and Pema says renunciation is about softening, being gentle. And as I was writing this in my journal, I notice the quote on the next page, “the body is your temple, keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in,” and it’s from B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga, considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. I start yoga teacher training in a few months, which is another key part of my healing practice, because as Jen Lemen said recently, “a huge barrier to joy is the refusal to live in our actual bodies.” It’s like a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” from the Universe — you are on the right track, Sugar.

And finally, in case I didn’t get it yet, my meditation practice is a video Susan Piver made for the Open Heart Project, Working with Self-Judgement.

The Universe does conspire to help you, if you show up. A leaf dropped in your path, a card, a line of poetry, a video, a kind word, help when you hadn’t even asked, the memory of an idea that you look for finding it to be the exact wisdom you needed in this very moment — the clear message that I can figure this out, can trust myself, but also to take care, be gentle and kind. Today, I am resting in this.