A wealthy, religious man was traveling through the United States from Europe where he planned to pay a visit to a wise and world-renowned Rabbi who happened to be residing in New York. The European located the Rabbi’s apartment in an old, somewhat tired brownstone on the Upper West Side. Upon entering, he found the Rabbi living in one small room with nothing more than a bed, a desk, and just a few books. After the formal greetings and salutations, the appalled European asked, “Rabbi, where are your things?!” To which the Rabbi immediately queried back without hesitation, “Where are your things?” “But I am only passing through”, answered the visitor.
“So am I,” responded the Rabbi, “so am I.”
Take a look around you and notice your stuff. What are you collecting? What are you hoarding? What are you hanging on to?
Shoes? Canned goods and ammo? Stamps? Old one-hit-wonder-hair-band concert jerseys? Resentments?
How long of a shelf life does any of that stuff really have? Better yet, ask yourself what is it about this stuff that has you so attached?
Aparigraha. That’s Sanskrit for not hoarding or greedlessness.
The story above succinctly illustrates the fifth of the yamas. The yamas are the ethical codes of conduct upon which we build our yoga practice. You’ll recall the previous four; ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), and brahmacharya (moderation). The ultimate practice of aparigraha would be to let go and abandon all possessions. Certainly there are some very devout yogis – monks, priests, and nuns for instance – who take a vow of renunciation and live most simply with just the barest of essentials. Indeed, I have a friend who travels around the world teaching yoga. You can bet he’s not traveling with his mat collection, or shoes for every occasion (he’s a yoga teacher – he’s barefoot most of the time!) and he certainly needs no ammo in his line of work. He is satisfied simply with what fits into his suitcase and this is his way of life, 365 days/year. He is a very happy man and lives the fifth yama beautifully.
When we hoard and cling to things, that implies that we’re not trusting in the bounty of the universe. We’re living in fear that we a) won’t get what we think we deserve, or b) will loose what we already have. Aparigraha teaches us to let go of the mindset of scarcity and embrace the mindset of abundance. How often are our eyes bigger than our stomachs? Next time you belly up to the endless buffet of all-things-fried, be observant of how much you’re piling on. Do you really need all that food? One of the early yogis, Swatmarama, taught that our bellies should be ½ full of food, ¼ full of water and ¼ full of air. Now, there’s some food for thought.
You can get serious about your practice and come to your yoga mat to rid yourself of all sorts of excess crap – toxins, negative energy, fat, weight, intolerance, and impatience, to name a few. You can do the same thing off the mat. When we release mental, emotional, physical and material baggage that’s no longer serving us, we’re actually making room for some newness to come our way. Putting the teachings of aparigraha into practice encourages us to enjoy what we have. The teachings also ask that we not be so attached to these things that they begin to identify or define who we are. Is your car or boat a statement of who you are (or think you are)? Figure out how to put the use of your toys and luxuries – if you are fortunate enough to have them – towards a good purpose. At the same time, come to a place in your heart and mind where you could let go of your fishing tackle, your shoe collection, or even your old Whitesnake concert jersey at a moment’s notice and be at peace with that action.
Streamline. Simplify. Surrender.
Lisa Bracken owns and teaches yoga at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake (www.TheCanebrake.com) as well as at NSU. She’s never witnessed a hearse leading a funeral possession towing a U-Haul…have you?