Giving up what causes suffering

Apr 3, 2022 | Yoga

Perfections of the Heart: Renunciation
“Most people have something they can relinquish.” This is the quote from Sylvia Boorstein that opened our conversation about generosity.

We considered abundance, receptivity, and how to reinforce connections with the practice of giving and receiving. Some of the most radical realizations that came up in our discussions were around generosity towards self, and, how challenging it can be to realize and receive what is being offered.

Little shifts in behavior and mindset, protected, defended, and reinforced over time, will support radical growth. The important thing to remember is that the feelings that arise during the beautification practices might not always feel as good as the result. It is important to maintain perspective.

This is a good segue to the next practice: renunciation.

Please consider giving up something that is causing suffering or unhappiness.

This is a practice that orients us towards joy, peace, freedom, compassion, and confidence. It moves us further away from suffering. Therefore, keeping the “big picture” in mind as we focus on the practice of renunciation, it makes sense that we would consider rejecting or abandoning something that causes suffering.

It might be helpful to broaden awareness of what could be causing suffering.

There is a model that we use in yoga to help organize our understanding. It is multi-layered, called pancamayakosha in Sanskrit. With it we can see 5 distinct layers of experience: physical, energetic, mental, ego-based, and bliss-based. At the core of this model is our truth… it is the most persistent part of our consciousness. It stays with us even as we grow from childhood to adulthood, even as we move through the seasons, the moods, the habits, and the awareness that changes over time.

When all of these layers are clear we (and everyone else) can enjoy easy access to our truest self. When they are blocked, clogged, confused, empty, or full, we (and others) feel that too.

So… what is causing suffering?

There’s probably one more distinction that might be helpful to make here. That is the difference between pain and suffering. It is inevitable that we, as human beings on planet Earth, will experience pain. We are pre-destined. Our nervous systems are specifically designed to detect and respond to pain. Pressure and temperature receptors in our skin, memory, language, even personality are all ways that we are purposefully attuned to sensation, especially that which is unpleasant.

Suffering is less of a temporary sensation and more of a pervasive mental/emotional experience. Suffering comes from attachment to expectations and preferences. Gulp… wait, aren’t expectations and preferences what make us who we are?

So… here we are.

When we can see ourselves as more of a process that is underway, rather than as fixed beings, we may also start to see how we can influence our course.

When we commit to orienting towards peace, compassion, contentment, and connection we find additional motivation for renunciation of that which threatens it.

You can start with whatever is easiest. You might already know, or have some curiosity around something that you habitually do, eat, think or feel that lingers, in an unpleasant way. Get in the habit of watching your thoughts and it will get easier. This is where a regular meditation practice, be it sitting, walking, or savasana can help to train the mind to learn to pay attention to itself.

Curiosity is key.

Please be gentle with yourself. These processes take time and by virtue of your presence here you can assured that they’re underway.

Here’s an example of how it might work: one of my formative experiences with this practice of renunciation and curiosity came around what I came to realize is a dairy allergy. I used to suffer from chronic sinus infections. They were awful! I also had some persistent GI upset and couldn’t quite figure out the cause. My nurse practitioner ordered some tests and they showed that I was allergic to dairy. “Oh well,” I thought, “that’s just something I’m going to have to live with, there’s no avoiding dairy.” (Now, this was 20 years ago so it might have been a little more difficult but certainly it was not impossible to avoid dairy then… I just didn’t know that yet.)

Next, I met with a Ayurvedic practitioner. She said that my constitution was prone to congestion and that I should avoid dairy. “Hmmm….”

From there I just started to pay closer attention. I started reading labels. I started eating more whole foods and tried milk alternatives. It happened over time and then, the process was complete. I was, and remain to this day, dairy free.

Marijuana, alcohol, needing people to like, appreciate, or even notice me, and blaming them for my problems, followed. Once I started to see the bigger picture more clearly, I became (am becoming) more willing to acknowledge pain and more able to move on from it. It keeps getting easier. (And there is definitely less suffering… no more sinus infections, far less guilt, shame, distain, or separateness.)

Abstaining from dairy, alcohol, blame, backbends without props, beating ourselves up over unmet expectations, or whatever it is that you find piques your curiosity does not deny us anything… what it does is allow us to truly and clearly commit our precious time and attention to what is most important.

In this way we might recognize abstention as an extension of generosity and of virtue, the perfections that preceded it.

May we be safe and protected from harm.

May we be content.

May we be nourished.

May our paths unfold with ease before us.

This month, see if you can identify something that you might “give up” that would result in deep and positive sense of self. Keep paying attention to when it arises in your mind and/or in your behavior. You’ve got this! You’re well on your way!

Margi Clifford

Margi Clifford is an outdoor enthusiast and yoga teacher with more than 20 years of experience as a holistic healthcare provider and educator. She’s based in Anchorage, Alaska, and has traveled extensively hosting international yoga retreats, providing health education, speaking at wellness conventions, and offering mindfulness consultations for healthy workplaces.

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