Recently I attended a study retreat with Swami Bodhananda in which the topic of renunciation was discussed in some detail. Renunciation is choosing to give up things we are attached to. In giving up our attachments, we free ourselves. He said, “Renunciation is the secret of happiness.” True happiness (bliss) is outside of the pleasure/pain cycle, where pleasure is inevitably followed by pain.

Think about it. You desire something. You get a little of it. You feel pleasure. You want more. You don’t get it. You feel pain. And so it goes, on and on, with each desire. He compares it to drinking salt water. The more you drink, the thirstier you become. The solution? When in the world, take only what you need.

When I heard all this, I couldn’t help thinking of all of the “stuff” that most of us own. I’m surprised by how much stuff I have, every time I have to move it. (Which for me is kind of often.) Still, compared to most people, in this country at least, I don’t own much.

I used to have a lot more stuff. I thought I needed it all.

I didn’t.

But it took me a long time to realize that. It wasn’t easy to give up a lot of that stuff. I didn’t think of it in terms of renunciation. It was more of a cost/benefit analysis. If I hadn’t moved so much, maybe I wouldn’t have given it up.

Ultimately, I felt like my stuff started owning me, instead of the other way around.

When I realized that, letting go didn’t seem so difficult. After I did it, I felt much lighter.

I felt…free.

The Story of Play Doh

In the movie How Do You Know, there’s a scene in which the guy buys the girl a tub of Play Doh. He tells her the story of Play Doh (how it was a failure as a wallpaper cleaner, but then was successfully re-marketed as a children’s toy) and says, “We are all just one small adjustment from making our lives work.”

And though the movie itself isn’t necessarily that profound, that one line has stuck with me since I first heard it. That one line speaks volumes, and it applies to much more than romantic relationships. It really seems to me like a commentary on perspective.

Sometimes our perspective is the biggest thing stopping us from seeing all the good that surrounds us, and using that vision as a springboard to greater success. Being attached to only one perspective is extremely limiting.

There’s a story I once read in which a man walks down a village street. Persons on one side of the street comment on his striking red hat, while those on the other side argue that his hat is blue. Each faction insists on the correct-ness of its interpretation. It’s only when the man turns around and walks back the other way that it becomes clear the hat is half red, half blue.

In a similar story, several people wearing blindfolds each try to explain what an elephant looks like. One describes the trunk, while the other describes the tail. An argument ensues over what type of creature the elephant really is, and who is more correct.

Of course, what these stories are meant to illustrate is the idea that perspective is limited, and that the same object (the same situation or challenge) looks very different when we approach it in a new way. Also, that we make fools of ourselves when we argue right-ness of our own viewpoints or wrong-ness of another’s perspective.

All this is to say that relinquishing attachment to our perspectives, to our stories, is an important step toward building better relationships and creating success. Sometimes it means crossing the street to see challenges or situations in our lives from another angle. Other times it means taking off the blindfold to see the big picture.

It’s worth asking ourselves where many of our deeply held opinions, viewpoints, and beliefs originated, because we may find that the source is a limited perspective. Now, this doesn’t mean abandoning all of our beliefs and principles, but rather approaching them with a greater understanding of where they come from. And, it gives us the opportunity to examine which of those beliefs are working for us, and which others might require some fine-tuning.