Living Yoga: Aparigraha—Non-Attachment & Letting Go

balloon rising in the air as a metaphor for the yogic concept of letting go

We have come to understand that yoga is present in every living, breathing moment. It is a body of knowledge, a practice, and a way of life. It dwells in many aspects of our daily existence—how we see the world, the words we use, the ways we relate, the choices we make, and ultimately how we move and act to shape our experience. Its presence is subtle and permeating. As we begin to understand the greater framework of yoga, we can look to the Yamas and Niyamas. These are moral codes of conduct, the restraints and observances that guide the pursuit of happiness, alleviate suffering and invite integrity into being.

What is Aparigraha?

Aparigraha is the fifth yama or social constraint of Patanjali’s moral codes. It is the practice of non-clinging, non-greed, and non-attachment. In many traditions, it is said that attachment is one of the main sources of human suffering and unhappiness. If there is one thing we can call “certain” in life, it is the truth that change is inevitable. Impermanence is the law of nature, as everything follows cycles of birth and death. Our bodies change, our identities transform, friendships burgeon and burn, seasons fall into rhythm, even the day gives way to night and so forth. In the healing science of Ayurveda, illness and disease—be it in the body or mind—occur when we try to fight nature’s progression. Essentially, what we resist will persist.

Material possessions are the easiest way for us to grasp the concept of aparigraha. In our modern consumer society, we are conditioned to desire. We have physical and emotional desires that often serve up ephemeral pleasure. Yet the dopamine and “happiness” derived from these achievements is our Pavlovian way of coming back for more. Unfortunately, there is the tendency to define self-worth in association with what you have. For some this shows up as material wealth—the white picket fence, the new car, the vacation home, the latest technology or gear, etc. Others seek to possess identities—the promotion at work, the social media presence, the dating profile. The list of desires is endless. Yet in the face of our momentary pleasure, we overlook the layers of weight we receive. Our belongings hold energetic weight, and when we hoard, clutter, or take more than what is necessary we become physically and emotionally shackled. Deborah Adele puts it simply: “What we possess possesses us.” The mortgage keeps you tethered to your home, the nostalgic memorabilia keeps you stuck in the past. When we catch ourselves in the midst of wanting and grasping, we can call upon our innate will and discipline. Our Ego follows the path of pleasure, yet when we practice non-attachment we can free ourselves from the Ego and bring ourselves closer to our true nature.

Aparigraha & Relationships

It is in relationship that we are given the opportunity to practice non-attachment—be it the relationship to physical possessions or that of a Great love or partnership. In love, no matter the form, we are often challenged to exercise the principle of aparigraha.

The poet Kahlil Gibran writes beautifully about non-possessiveness or greed in marriage. He says:

“Give your hearts, but not to each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadows.”

 

One of the most courageous acts is to let a love go. In fact, in doing so, you practice love. You practice ahimsa. And you practice aparigraha. This transcends the realm of romantic partnership. Letting go is a challenge whether you are seeing your grown child off to college, putting down a beloved pet, grieving at the funeral, or even in the last moments of our life, where our bodies finally meet rest and allow our own inevitable passing. In our acts of clinging, we impart more suffering, not only upon ourselves but in a way that reverberates into our web of human connection.

Trust & Control

Often, the challenge in vindicating attachment is rooted in control. Control is the culprit for our holding and grasping. We seek to navigate our future and fate, so we choose our education, our jobs, our partners, etc. We try to escape suffering by means of control. Emotions like worry and stress stem from the fear mixed with uncertainty. Worry is a fear about the future unknown.  Stress occurs when we are forced to change yet resist doing so. The opportunity to practice aparigraha shows up when we release ourselves from attachment to expectations, to outcomes, to hopes and dreams that do not always unfold as we wish. It strengthens when we accept the truth and find ease in the unknown.

Trust is the secret power to practicing aparigraha. When we trust in our words, choices, actions, the unfolding path before us, we can relinquish the death grip on life. Aparigraha reminds us of the importance of letting go, to not attach ourselves physically and energetically, whether to the past, present, or even future, and to trust fully in the intelligence of the Universe. It is in this practice we find freedom.

 

 

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