following the heart's desire

(cutting away attachments to reach your full potential

There is a beautiful Peace rose bush that grows beside my house. For the last few years its branches have spread wildly, but were not producing many roses. This year it was covered in bugs. I began to prune it back so it could regain some of its vitality and hopefully avoid insect infestation. I cut and cut until there was only one stem left, and then with resignation I cut that too. A couple of weeks later a strong, healthy stem shot up out of the stump and very shortly had four beautiful blooms. It made me realize the strength of the rose bush. When the life force was given an opportunity, true beauty arose, unimpeded by wandering branches and bugs.

For your own life to bloom, a decisive action of clipping back is often required, a renunciation of the things that prevent you from attaining who and what your potential really is. Yoga is a path of developing awareness in your actions and thoughts. When you become more aware of who you are, you can then discern what will nourish the seed of divinity within. You may discover that things you thought were important will drop away, or that you are ready to clip away unnecessary concepts.

Many of us start on the spiritual path because there is a heartfelt desire to connect to the Most High and find peace. Following your heart's desire requires a willingness to make a commitment that will take you through the ups and downs. There will be obstacles on this path. One part of the mind wants to bring focus to your life direction. Another part of the mind questions and doubts. Is renouncing like rejecting and denying life? What will others think? What do I renounce?

People often think that by renouncing you forget the world, and live a peaceful existence away from the humdrum of everyday life. Actually, renunciation is learning to face life squarely for what it is and accepting responsibility for what you create. By focusing on the ideal of your life's purpose, you allow space for the essential truth of who you are to emerge.

Peace of mind doesn't necessarily come with money, a beautiful home, job or relationship. The mind becomes peaceful when a decision is made to be selfless, generous, forgiving. First of all, you have to look at what you don't want in your life. Are you greedy? Do you manipulate situations so you look good? Are you afraid, and try to control people and situations so the worst won't happen? Do you keep resentments, grudges and anger toward people in your family and community?

We have a responsibility to practise renouncing, letting go of the worlds we keep creating mental, emotional and spiritual worlds. Can you renounce physical attachments you have created, the mental and emotional habits you have developed, and even the spiritual fantasies? What is your world and what have you built? Is it the world you want to live in? In renouncing the aspects that are not essential for growth in your life, a new sturdier, healthier, more positive way becomes possible. You want to be able to step to the edge in compassion and kindness, to be in the moment instead of being caught in the negative, critical or irritable parts, remembering past hurts or imagining future fears.

Renunciation is also learning to trust that when things are let go we will be given what we need. We develop trust by suspending our judgements, releasing doubts and seeing what is really happening. The challenges are not obstacles. As you grow in strength, you will have the courage to step into the unknown. Renunciation requires a willingness to care deeply, accept yourself and use your intelligence.

When I think of renunciation, the metaphor of pruning keeps coming to mind. Each year in spring, we prune the wildly sprouting fruit trees back to their essential unique shapes. The art of pruning requires us to listen to what each tree needs. Each cut is thought out and made in response to the tree's unique form. Well-pruned trees stand like joyful dancers, their branches free and open to the light and air.

Think of your life, think of what kind of person you want to be and what makes your life worth living. You need the courage to cut away what stands in your way of accepting your full potential. Find the subtle mystery within yourself, and behind everything the fragrance in the rose, energy in the sun, beauty in the world around us. Discover the design. . .the Divine design in every moment. At times it's very clear, and other times you have to give up your need to control in order to recognize the vision.

In the Katha Upanishad, there is a wonderful message from the Lord of Death about renouncing attachments to follow the essential Truth:

I've offered you every pleasure, fame, fortune and even a place in heaven and you rejected them all. Draw near now and hear me. That Self which you wish to know which is subtle and difficult to see is there. Deep within the deepest part of you, fix all your thinking and all your inquiry on that ancient, radiant Self. Through It you will rise above both joy and sorrow. Having heard this Truth, you must embrace it completely. Continue separating the Eternal from the ephemeral and you will attain full realization of that more inner, most exquisite Self, the source of true joy. You are ready for this experience. Now walk the Path of Grace.
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

   read more of swami radhananda's past columns

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life