Sunday, December 28, 2008

Renunciation


The notion of letting go may be seen as either a negative or a positive. On the one hand it could be a sign of weakness; of just giving up when tenacity or perseverance is required. Failing to achieve is often seen in this way. On the other hand letting go may be exactly what is needed. It is impossible to grasp one thing when we are full of another. The difference between these can be understood against the background of time—a function of memory.

Our experience of time results from memory. It is an established fact that people with damaged left-brain capacities have no memory and thus lose a sense of time. The reason for this loss is that memory occurs in our left hemisphere and without an ability to compare the present moment to the past, time goes away. If there is no past, projection into the future likewise goes away. It is impossible to learn from experience when there is no time.

In Zen we are taught to live in the moment by detaching from the baggage of the past and to let go the illusion of the future. When our memories are healthy (not damaged) this is a valuable way of living. When we are full of either the illusion of the future or the baggage of a dead past it is very difficult to be present. This concentration on the present is a primary focal point of zazen. But the principle has much broader application beyond sitting.

To a significant degree we have learned to undermine our own capacities and potential with limiting stories and ideas we tell our self. “I’m not good enough”; “She is better than me”; “I am flawed and thus unworthy”...All these and more are examples of self-imposed limitations which undermine functioning. Where did these stories come from? In a substantial way they come from our memories. We learn through experience which we then recall when similar occasions arise and then we compare our memories to unfolding conditions and take the next step and project. What this process does not consider is changing circumstances. The conditions which may have existed no longer exist.

Pema Chodron says that “...renunciation is the same thing as opening to the teachings of the present moment.” Every moment is unique. Every moment is a manifestation of circumstances which have never existed before and by letting go we are more able to meet present teachings with openness and clarity; impossible conditions when we remain lodged in the past and future.
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