Renunciation v. Discrimination (and Celebrating the Holidays)

A fundamental precept of classical yoga is that of vairagya or renunciation.  The yogin is meant to gradually renounce all of the life of mind and body until he or she transcends them and sees only spirit.  I have been thinking about how renunciation fits in with the holidays and how we, as a society, have come to celebrate them.  As some indulge to excess and all sorts of tinsel trappings, others denounce the excess as taking away from spirit and renounce the whole thing.  A reactive renunciation of the holidays wholesale because they are so commercialized can feel just as harsh as full consumption of the holidays, as marketed on TV, can feel bloated and unhealthy.

When we approach yoga from a tantric perspective, the practice is not geared towards vairagya. We seek instead to be fully engaged in life, trying to live each moment, taste each bite, breathe each breath, take each step as a way of connecting more deeply to the spirit.  This does not mean reckless indulgence.  It does not mean heedlessly consuming and taking into ourselves that which does not nourish ourselves or which harms other beings or the earth.  Through practice and study, we develop viveka or discrimination, which informs us of what will enhance our lives and lead us towards a place of light and health.

In the context of the holidays, to make them truly holy days, the tantric observer will not reject holiday celebrations out of hand simply because they have generally become commercialized and often unhealthy.  Rather, he or she will discern ways to celebrate and honor earth, family, friends, and self that are in alignment with nature and optimize the connections among them.  This may mean picking and choosing how and with whom to celebrate, but always with honor and respect.  This is an art that I am working on personally; sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line, especially if co-workers or family are living in ways that do not feel nourishing for us.  Then the game is to not seem Scrooge-like to those who think that the holidays are about lots of heavy food and shopping, while we are choosing to honor the season in another way.


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