The practice of renunciation is the practice of non-addiction. It is the practice of saying “no” to the mind. It’s not a “no” motivated by aversion but a wise “no” that sees clearly craving in the mind. Where there is fixation and dependency a skillful discrimination and kind “no” are needed.
This afternoon while I was on a walk in the woods everything was communicating the liberating lesson of change. The expansive river, swollen with the recent rains, was racing beside me on the path I followed. The cool breeze sang through the trees while sunlight danced on the leaves. The song of birds and insects competed for dominance. Everything was teaching the great lesson that nothing whatsoever is to be clung to. Everything is changing.
After my walk I returned to my car. I opened the car door and slowing took my seat. Settling in I adjusted and closed the door. I placed my keys in the ignition and started the car. A song on the radio rushed in to the burning interior to greet me. It was Shock The Monkey by Peter Gabriel. I relaxed back into my seat, smiling, I let the beat of the song move through me. Head nodding and foot tapping, hearing the song in a new way my mind recognizes the practice of renunciation in the lyrics.
If we frequently entertain patters of thinking or behavior that cause us pain yet enchant us beyond our resolutions to abandon them, it can feel like a prison. It’s been described as a monkey that rides on one’s back, chattering, clawing, and biting. This monkey can be cunning, sometimes charming with sweet whispers of empty promises, and other times defecating a stream of self-loathing down our back. This monkey is not our friend.
This monkey for the most part is used to getting its way. It has seen that if it whines and screams enough our eyes glaze over and our resolve begins to weaken. It’s as if the monkey is not only agile but a grand master sorcerer as well. The monkey weaves a spell so powerful that we are beguiled and believe that the fabrications of our thinking and the desires of our behavior are reliable and lasting, capable of some dependable happiness.
The metaphorical monkey is complicated, it is pain, and in our delusion, it is the method by which we avoid relating to pain. Yet one moment can be enough to change the pattern of avoiding and introduce a new relationship of mindful observation. We can “Shock” the monkey by not avoiding the pain but by being with it, without greed, without aversion, and without delusion.
Peter Gabriel’s song can be a rallying cry to let the monkey go free and take our life into our own hands. Happiness is found in the letting go, not in the having.
“Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.”
— George Carlin
By Johnathan Woodside
MOI Founder, Guiding Teacher, and Executive Director