Aparigraha | What We Try to Possess, Will Possess Us

This week marks the fifth and final yama! Hard to believe we're already through the yamas and will be moving onto the niyamas next week. If you remember from the introduction post, the yamas are the "restraints" while the niyamas are the "observances." So we'll be transitioning from what we shouldn't do - violence, lie, steal, excess, and possessiveness - to what we want to bring into our lives - purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender.

For the final yama, we'll be covering Aparigraha, or the tenant of non-possessiveness. Aparigraha asks us to not cling to things of this world. The belief is that all things come and go and holding onto things will only lead to suffering. We are allowed to enjoy the pleasures of life and what we have in this moment but must do this without becoming attached. Only then can we be free to truly enjoy this life.

One way to practice the philosophy behind Aparigraha is to pay attention to our breath. Take a couple minutes to sit down, close your eyes, and tune in to your breathing. Allow yourself to take pleasure in each breath, envisioning the nourishment gained from each inhale. Now, notice how with each exhale, the breath you just took in is now gone. That breath is now in the past and no longer exists. For a split second, you become suspended between the completion of the exhale and the beginning of a new breath. When you take in the next breath, you receive the nourishment and delight, then with the exhale it is complete. Just like the breath, what we have in this moment is only true of this moment. We may have not had it a second before and we may not have it in the future.

Suspension in Midair
One of the things that makes non-attachment so difficult is that we have to let go of what currently is in our possession in order to make space for what's to come. This leaves us feeling suspended as if we're in midair with no secure footing. Being suspended often leaves people feeling uncomfortable. We don't like not knowing what will come without having solid ground to wait for it to come. It's hard to allow ourselves to feel the discomfort and many will refuse to do it.

The thing with Aparigraha is that we have to let go of the past in order to move into what the future holds for us. We cannot hold onto and receive both at the same time. A easy example of this is to think about how many possessions we have. We might hold onto lots of things in our home. Maybe it's a couch we've had for years with the seat that perfectly molds to us but is now falling apart, maybe it's stacks of pictures that we haven't looked at in years, maybe it's a collection of books we haven't cracked the covers of. If we aren't willing to let go of these objects, we won't have room for a new couch that's structurally sound, we won't have room for new things that bring life and happiness into our lives. The most important thing is that we won't be able to feel a sense of freedom from our possessions if we refuse to let go of them.

Think about the following quote from the chapter in "The Yamas and Niyamas"

What we try to possess, will possess us.
— Deborah Adele

Releasing Expectations
Another area we tend to hold onto is expectations for how a situation will play out or how someone will react. We expect that an interaction with a friend should go a certain way, that our favorite food will make us feel the way it always has. We also hold expectations for ourselves, like how we should react to others, what we should accomplish, or how we should carry ourselves.

All these expectations really do is create a mental prison around ourselves. We end up creating our own captivity, which again causes us suffering when things don't go the way we had envisioned. We hold onto the outcome when real freedom comes when we release expectations and allow the situation to play out however it will. 

Holding onto expectations of the self used to be one of my biggest struggles. After ending an abusive relationship, I told myself that I would never again be that vulnerable to anyone again, that I would never allow anyone to treat me that way again. I created the expectation that I would now be an independent, strong women who didn't need help from anyone. Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be an independent, strong woman. The issues, however, arose when I held onto this identity so tightly that I refused to let anyone in. I refused to be vulnerable with anyone, which meant I was always on guard for someone to be trying to take advantage of me and I couldn't allow myself to get close to those I cared about. I had created an attachment to my identity that was actually causing me a great deal of anxiety and was making me a weaker, more vulnerable, and isolated version of myself.

In a crazy way, once I let go of the attachment of who I should be, I could finally be free to live a happy life with others being apart of it. I could allow myself to grow into the person I was meant to be and became stronger through acknowledging my vulnerability and allowing others to help me.

As you move into the week ahead, take the following quote with you:

Love is what is left when
you’ve let go of
all the things you love.
— Swami Jnaneshvara

- Explore the breathing exercise described above. Practice enjoying the nourishment of each inhale and letting go with each exhale. 

- Look for areas where there is clutter in your life. Reflect on what things allow you to feel light and free and those that leave you feeling attached and heavy.

- Notice where you hold expectations, both for others and for yourself. Practice living in the moment and letting go of the attachment to a certain outcome. After doing this, reflect and journal on how it went and how you feel afterwards.

That wraps up our final yama post. I hope you are able to take these exercises into the week ahead and feel more free and less attached to objects and expectations. I will see you back here next week to kick off the niyamas.

May you be free.
May you enjoy this life.
May you free yourself of what possesses you.
- Namaste