Have you ever noticed yourself holding your breath without really consciously thinking about it? It’s almost as if you’re trying to be so quiet or make yourself invisible because then maybe, just maybe you’ll survive the moment you have found yourself inside of. Other things we hold on to are expectations, material possessions, and our surroundings. We want things to stay the same or be predictable. We want past experiences that brought us joy to bring us joy the next time we have that experience. We want to count on things and people so that we’re not disappointed. We want things to light us up and make us feel like a million bucks. We hold on, clinging to an ideal.
This past month I received a homework assignment from my yoga instructor to research the niyama – aparigraha. Now, if you don’t know Sanskrit and haven’t studied yoga – let me explain. I just wrote a paper on this, so it feels fresh on my fingertips. 😉
Deborah Adele in her book “Yamas and Niyamas; Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice”, describes yamas as our personal GPS, instructions to move in a certain direction. There are four yamas and in English they can be interpreted as: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess, and nonpossessiveness. Aparigraha is nonpossessiveness, also interpreted as nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging, nongrasping, and noncoveting.
Deborah Adele describes experiences like “the completeness of being loved, the satisfaction of a superb meal, the acknowledgment of work well done”, as expectations that we hold on to, unwilling to let those blissful moments go. Indeed we want the guarantee that we will experience that same satisfaction the next time, thus unintentionally placing demands on ourselves or others. I am definitely guilty of this 100%. Much of my life I have been guided to achieve a label or status and coveting that which is not mine, but wanting it because someone else does. I have also done this most of my life with running. I have been running in races since I was seven years old and whenever I did well, by my standards, I would expect the same each time I ran a race or went for a run. I have been frustrated countless times when a run didn’t feel good or I did not achieve what I expected in a race and then I experience anger at myself. Having recognized this unhealthy relationship recently, I have backed away from the sport and provided myself some space and distance from that frustration. The countless medals, ribbons, t-shirts and other race paraphernalia that I’ve collected over the years are surely weighing me down. That which you possess, possesses you.
I am quite familiar with the path of wanting experiences to play out the way I anticipate in my mind either as a result of a previous experience or because of the effort that I put into the planning. It is an ever-elusive dream with no real benefit to myself.
The danger of permanence and attempting to keep things the same is that we continue to experience discomfort and angst since everything changes and nothing stays the same. Practicing “letting go” or aparigraha certainly applies to more than material possessions but can be thought of metaphorically as baggage that we carry around with us filled with expectations, tasks, plans, resentments, and any clinging to things or outcomes. Choose freedom rather than attachments.
A lesson I am learning.
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