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.