How many of us have experienced it – “But it’s such a good deal”! “Hey, everyone else has it, maybe it’s time I got it.” “Well, they’re on sale, I might as well stock up”, or “I don’t really need it, but I want it!” Of course, there are many other scenarios, and most of us have experienced the Sale phenomenon.
Maybe we didn’t even intend to go to the mall, but we happened to drive by, and there’s Nordstrom, the sporting goods store, wherever, and we remember – yeah, sale time. Why not go in and see what’s marked down? We start conjuring up stuff we could use. Yeah, I could use some more underwear. Hey, I want some cool new clothes.
Then we start to get excited. Pretty soon, it’s been an hour, or 3, and we’ve charged through the store googly-eyed, tearing through anything that looks interesting and convincing ourselves of needing or wanting this or that. Without even leaving our home, we may find ourselves surfing the internet for those hot sales. Maybe we end up spending some money that we really didn’t want to. And then thinking back – how many of those things did we really enjoy and use later?
OK, maybe I’m the ONLY one who has ever done this, right? Or, that was in your past, because after all you’re into yoga now, or spiritual growth, or whatever, and you don’t do that anymore. So, of course, this article isn’t for you but for someone you know. :) Just keep it in mind for them.
What does all this have to do with Aparigraha, that weird word in the title of the article? Well, just about everything. Aparigraha is the yogic principle of having only what is necessary in our life, and not being greedy. It is refraining from hoarding things, rather than filling our lives with unnecessary stuff.
It’s also about letting go of what we’ve held onto that’s no longer necessary but we still cling to. This is an important principle in yoga, because the more we hold onto, the less we can receive. The more the body holds and clings, the less it can move. And the more stuff we have, whether in our home or packed into our thoughts, the less peace and spaciousness we experience.
Need vs. Necessity
I specifically didn’t use the phrase “what we really need”, but rather, what is necessary. There’s a big difference, because we can use the word “need” to justify a lot of things that aren’t truly necessary. Just think of the last time you felt you really needed some ice cream. Or really needed that new outfit. Or really needed to get all those new CDs. It doesn’t matter what it is, but consider for a moment all the things that you have that aren’t necessary. What is truly necessary for our well-being and happiness? That is a big question.
Aparigraha is not about deprivation. We could take it to that place – well, I really shouldn’t get this or that because then I’d be greedy. I must hold myself back, because I can do without that. It may be true, yes, but we don’t want to take this practice to the point where we feel like we’re a child that never got what it wanted – and then rebelling later because we felt under-privileged by our self-imposed restraint.
Aparigraha isn’t becoming a parent that never lets us have what we want. This is a practice of acknowledging what makes us truly happy, what deeply satisfies us. Yes, that ice cream may satisfy me for a few minutes, but what about after that? Will I feel guilty, cold, congested, upset in the stomach? Will that same thing that brought me happiness a few minutes ago be a source of suffering later (maybe in my checking account, or in taking up more space in my home?), or no longer provide any satisfaction? Does this thing that I hold onto in my closet, even though I never use it, really make a difference in my life?
Find deeper fulfillment
When we feel compelled to have these things, rather than becoming rigid and righteous, imposing control on ourselves or forcing ourselves to let go, we can ask: what will truly bring me happiness or peace? What can I do now to help support that, rather than something that is short-lived, and may cause me suffering or inconvenience later? Maybe a warm bath, a walk in the sunshine, a half hour of yoga, shooting some hoops, or having a cup of tea with a good friend will go further towards that goal than the After-Christmas Sale or indulging in a habit that makes you feel foolish or ashamed later.
This can also happen in our yoga practice. We can become greedy for more advanced poses, or looking like that person over there, or getting the teacher’s attention. All of these things, while not bad in themselves, take us away from finding the deep fulfillment in who we already are and what we already have. That’s aparigraha. Recognizing that we already have what we need to be truly happy, deeply at peace, inside ourselves. We don’t need anything more, nor do we need to become more than who we already are within.
Source of happiness
Then, when it’s time to get a new stereo, or to learn a more advanced pose, it’s nice, but it doesn’t become the source of our happiness. We are already cultivating that source within us, and know that whatever comes or doesn’t come, that won’t change. We can actually enjoy the ice cream of life more, because we don’t expect it to do for us what it can’t do – provide deep, lasting contentment (and we’ll probably be less interested in eating it at all).
So whether or not you decide to go out into the shops and buy some things, you can always practice aparigraha. Take some time to get centered before you go into the “super sale” environment. Breathe, go slowly, and stay grounded. You’ll maintain a better sense of what is truly necessary, and you’ll retain more clarity of what is the authentic source of fulfillment inside yourself. And try not to “shop til you drop”. I mean, suggest that to your friend, of course.
Copyright © 2002 by Constance L. Habash