This week we will finish up with the five yamas, completing our introduction to the first limb of yoga, yama. The yamas are a set of guidelines to help us create the conditions in our lives for yoga to arise. The last yama is aparigraha, which means non-grasping, non-hoarding and non-greed.
Grasping, or excessive clinging to our experience, causes suffering. This is one of THE core insights of the Buddha, who said it is our attachment to our experience that causes us to suffer, not the experience itself. There is so much at play in every situation, and lets face it: life does not always show up on our terms. So aparigraha teaches us to let go of our attachment to the way things unfold in our life. It doesn’t mean we don’t have preferences and work towards our goals, it means we let go of our attachment to outcome. This is the central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita which instructs us to focus on the action itself and not to the outcome of our actions.
This is easy when there’s not a lot at stake, and more challenging when something is really important to us. I have gone down kicking and screaming more than once when events were happening in a way I didn’t think was right. In fact, if you’d asked me months before those circumstances unfolded whether I could have let go of things going my way, I would have said NO WAY.
The most compelling was probably when my now grown son was in the throws of his teenaged years and his father and I, co-parenting from separate households, had really different ideas about how to hold him. My son preferred his father’s approach, and my ex and I weren’t communicating very well, and so we couldn’t come up with a shared approach to setting limits for our son. It was challenging and causing a lot of chaos at home. This was my BABY! How could I let go of what I thought was right for my precious child and trust that things would sort themselves out with time?
My son decided he wanted to go live with his father, his father agreed. Reluctantly, and really only because I felt there was no other choice (except perhaps going to court), I let go. I grieved as my 16 year old went to live full-time with his father and with a level of freedom I felt was not in his best interest. I feared our relationship would never be the same. I hated his father for not working with me. But, you know what? It was okay. My son learned many lessons THE HARD WAY—which was his destiny. He grew into the fine man that he is today. He and I are close and he seems to have forgotten about a time that was so stressful for his parents. His father and I made it through a difficult passage and are on friendly enough terms now. The mother in me survived and I learned that I am a lot stronger than I think.
Sometimes hindsight reveals the wisdom of the way events unfolded, but not always. Sometimes we never see from our vantage point why a situation happened the way it did. It is humbling. The universe is vast and mysterious, and we will never understand all that is at work at any given moment or why things turn out the way they do. Practicing aparigraha can save us from a lot of useless struggle, and ultimately leave our minds and hearts at peace, freeing us to focus more on our intentions, our actions in the present moment, and our willingness to fully engage with what life throws our way.
Hoarding material possessions, people and experiences are other examples of a need for aparigraha. “Living simply so that others can simply live;” practicing gratitude for what we do have; self-regulation around our consumption of material resources, how much we eat, etc. are ways we can practice this yama.
In Mukunda Stiles’ translation of Patanjali’s sutra on aparigraha (II,39) we have this:
Upon the foundation of freedom from greed one gains insight into the reasons for the cycles of birth and death
So this week, look in to your life to see where you are being asked to let go or loosen your hold. Are there places in your life where you are mindlessly collecting more stuff? Are you in positions where you find yourself unwilling to yield even when events are clearly asking this of you? Can you put your heart into your actions, while letting go of particular outcomes? Can you hold to your relationships while allowing the freedom and autonomy of another person’s soul development?
As always, I am interested in knowing how your inquiry goes, and what comes up for you in the process. You can leave any comments below.