Among the Yogis of old, there is a tradition of renunciation. Taken from the context of the Four Stages of Life in Indian spiritual texts, it is the fourth and most challenging stage. Not for the faint of heart, it requires the total abandonment of worldly attachments, belongings, and all creature comforts, including your family home and all the possessions in it. It even requires the relinquishment of your identity as you know it. It is a personal choice and only taken on by a relative few.
The idea is that worldly greatness and material achievements are ultimately meaningless, nothing but “child’s play,” as described by Swami Sivananda, who goes on to say that “mere college study cannot make you great.” Book learning alone does not foster the kind of deep compassion that is generated by a spiritual maturation, nor a transformed consciousness that is only tilled by practice and experience.
A true renunciate is one who can remain in the world, but not be worldly-minded.
Those who are serious about pursuing this path do it in steps and measures. Much like the acclimatization process for climbing Mt. Everest, where you surmount one camp level at a time, until your body has adjusted to the oxygen level… you would start by going out to the woods to live in a secluded way for a month or so, away from all that is familiar and comfortable, as a way of testing your mental strength and determination, as well as cultivating patience and fortitude.
In my Kundalini tradition, the idea is to nurture this kind of inner strength and awakening, while living in the world as a householder, which is the Indian expression for those of us who cannot and aren’t inclined to live in a cave away from civilization for the rest of our lives (most of us!)
But we can look to the renunciates (“saddhus”) for inspiration, and take some valuable lessons from them, especially during this time of seclusion. The most important thing to consider is that, while their lifestyle is one of letting go, ours is one of stressed accumulation.
Renunciation is a purposeful and committed lifestyle of radical letting go.
So many of us are feeling bored and frustrated during this time of lock-down, as if many things have been denied to us. But I feel that as an alternative way of looking at the situation, it might be helpful—and might even propel us into a transformation of consciousness in its own right—to look at this as a mini renunciation exercise.
For example, even if we just changed our viewpoint about it… from one of being forced by outside measures, to one of willfulness, in service to a greater cause, it would lesson the mental burden. And to take it one step further, we could ask ourselves:
“What could I give up” during this time, as a means of practicing self-healing?
I’ll go first: I don’t know how many of you enjoy astrology, but Virgos are known for their meticulousness. Although I’m home a lot in my usual life, as a teacher, I’ve have had to switch to online teaching. This has created some pressure with regard to learning and organizing via platforms such as Zoom. I’m very much a Virgo in these types of scenarios and for me, it’s a short hop between taking it in manageable bits and letting it become a source of pressure and stress.
So, my practice is now to work within the medium I’m most comfortable with (mini lectures via iphone), while continuing to check in with my college students regularly through the online system already in place—”Canvas.” I have been learning to use more of the tools already at my disposal within these systems, that I never made use of before. But I’m doing it one step at a time. For now… for today, my students are fine. The pressure comes from within.
What will you let go of as a gift to yourself?