Explore Desire Through Renunciation

Explore Desire Through Renunciation
Practice of the Week

Lent begins in February. It is one of the many spiritual traditions that invite us into the spiritual practice of renunciation and self-denial. This exercise honors that tradition -- but with a twist. In this practice, there's as much over-indulgence as there is self-denial.

The aim is not self-control -- it's self-knowledge. This week's practice will create just enough distance from your desires to understand what is behind and beneath them. What deeper hunger is driving your obsession with food? What deeper struggle is underneath your need to keep everything in the house clean and perfect? Don’t get caught up in resisting the desire. Instead figure out what it is trying to tell you.

Here's Ram Dass, from his book, Paths to God, explaining:
If you want to play a little bit with a renunciation practice, pick some desire that you encounter every day. You decide which one: the desire to eat something or other, the desire for a cigarette, whatever it is you want to play with. Pick something that you usually give in to every day — like, let's say, a cup of coffee in the morning — and for one day, don't do it. Then the next day, do it much more than you usually would — have two cups of coffee. Start to study your reactions. Notice the difference in your feelings toward the desire on the first day and on the second day.

Maybe another time you'll want to take two desires to work with; one day don't satisfy one and doubly satisfy the other, and then flip them around. Try to be very attentive to what's going through your mind about it....Start to relate to your desires as something you can scrutinize rather than as things that totally suck you in all the time, things that consume you. Get into a friendly relationship with your desires. Play with them, instead of being driven by them all the time. Desires get to be fun, really, once we're observing them instead of mechanically reacting to them.

The whole game of renunciation and purification is an experiment — an experiment in how quickly we can extricate ourselves from being attached to our desire systems. Notice that it isn't a question of getting rid of desires — that's a misunderstanding. Trust me, the desires will stay around! We're just loosening their hold on us, getting clear enough of them so we can see them in some sort of context.

Write about it in your journal: What goes through your mind when you (a) deny yourself something that you usually do every day? (b) do twice as much of something that you usually do every day? What do you discover about the way your desire works in your life?

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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