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  • Writer's pictureSimone Dale

Renunciation: challenging the insatiable “want”

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Renunciation is my “word for the year”. I haven’t yet been able to decide on a word for the year and then keep contemplating it for the entire year. Nonetheless, it’s a way to focus attention (for some time) on something that your intuition tells you will be valuable.

It’s a new word for me. Not that I haven’t heard it before, I have, but its not part of my everyday vocabulary. What’s great about that is that it doesn’t carry a lot of baggage. The word is clean of heavy associations or expectations of what it could deliver. Whenever I discover a new word that I don’t understand to the core, I open my app and get the meat of it with the definition. Here it is:

Renunciation – noun.

1. An act or instance of relinquishing, abandoning, repudiating or sacrificing something as a right, title, person or ambition.

Wow. How juicy is that? Take a moment now to use your shift F7 keys to get the Thesaurus lists on each of those words… renunciation, relinquishing, abandoning, and repudiating. They all seem to me to be a variation of letting go. “Letting go” is a combination of words I am all too familiar with. “Let it go Simone, just let it go” – how many times I have repeated that quietly to my self (and out loud) I cannot tell you. But it seems an elusive thing this “letting go”. Like a distant rainbow that can never be reached. So, renunciation is a fresh perceptive for me and doesn’t carry the weight of guilt and failure and incompetence that “letting go” holds for me. See the poem “She let go” by Safire Rose (link below) for a gentle learning here.

I discovered the word renunciation in a fabulous Buddhist article titled “You can’t always get what you want”, by Ken McCleod. In a nutshell, this article is saying that there is no security, we are all going to die, and our emotional needs will never be met. Absurdly comforting. Essentially, we cannot avoid suffering, but we can renunciate desire, and that eases suffering. There are three ‘keys’ it says:

1. "Stop seeking security
2. Let go of expectations of emotional fulfillment
3. Know the groundlessness of experience itself: no one to be, nowhere to go."

To practice this, you have to:

…"[move] into the experience of desire, instead of trying to fulfill or suppress it. By going into the experience of desire itself, rather than acting on it, you let go of the belief that you are incomplete. The energy of desire ceases to dictate behavior and, instead, fuels presence: being completely in the experience of what is, internally and externally.”

This is life work this. You could spend every day of your life practising this and still not experience the renunciation of all desire, and frankly I am not sure I want to. I like the word desire, so there must be some good in it. But one of my daily habits now is renunciation, and it gives incredible relief. It gets rid of the trying. The effort and stretch to try let go or accept something I don't want as it is. You don’t have to strive for anything, in that moment of investigating the desire, it just is.

Combine this with “The conversational nature of reality”, a Krista Tippet interview with David Whyte for a deeper understanding of suffering (and many, many other things). Most desires stem from trying to alleviate our own suffering or the suffering of others. When we realise fully just how much of it [suffering] we’re going to get, we’re forced to come up with a new strategy for dealing with it.

References and Further reading/watching/listening:

She Let go”, a poem by Safire Rose:

Article in Tricycle, The Buddhist Review by Ken McLeod, “You can’t always get what you want”:

“The conversational nature of reality” Krista Tippet interviews David Whyte:

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