This week at Shree we are back to the questions (riddles) that Dharma poses to Yudhisthira to (see past blog entries for story context):
Q: What makes one wealthy if it’s cast away?
Q: What causes desire for possessions?
A: Nothing else but the possessions themselves.
These questions evoke the yama of aparigraha, or non-clinging. In my house we have 2 extremes on this front: I am somewhat sentimental and hold onto things, gifts from friends, notes from family members, offerings from students, clothing that might come back into style (that sometimes can take 15 years you know!), the camera that broke 5 years ago but I still might want to get fixed and use again, etc. I like to surround myself with meaningful things and I like to make little "altars" with meaningful objects. My husband calls this clutter (not the altars, but the clothing and camera type stuff). He is a purger. He likes things simple and neat and so it often leads him to get rid of things that, in my opinion, should be kept a little longer for one reason or another. Like the iPhone case that he bought 3 months ago but doesn't like anymore so it goes in the trash, only to realize 2 weeks later that oh yeah, now I remember why I bought that case in the first place so let me go buy another one. You get the idea.
Aparigraha is not only about stuff. It's about clinging to ideas that hold us or those around us back. Holding onto beliefs that are harmful and keep us closed down. It's about managing our expectations - when we have a picture in our minds of how we want things to go and they don't go that way, practicing aparigraha means letting it go and not clinging to our disappointment. Sometimes we grasp a relationship or a job in an unhealthy way. These are far more challenging to let go of than the old shirt or birthday card, but the practice is still the same.
The autumn trees have a lesson to teach us: just when the leaves are at their most beautiful, the trees let them go. Life moves forward whether we like it or not – we can choose to step into the flow or anchor ourselves where we are. Break out your inner tube folks, it’s so much easier to be carried! Sometimes we have to let go of even beautiful things in order to keep moving forward in a meaningful way. It can be hard, but there is so much freedom when we can do it.
So, like all things yoga, there is a balance here. Aparigraha is not about living the life of an ascetic, but in being discerning about what it is we really value, what is really important and letting go of the rest.
Here are a few more aparigraha practices that have helped me:
Practice forgiveness. Let go of painful memories and past grudges.
Let go of your need for perfection. Danna Faulds says (the pursuit of) “perfection is only a prerequisite for pain.”
Be proactive: take time to nurture yourself – when we feel afraid or insecure we cling to those around us.
When cleaning up a room, bring a box and label it “toss” and fill it with your clutter. Set the “toss” box on a shelf for a month or 2 – if you haven’t looked for or used anything in it in that time, throw it out.