Aparigraha is Sanskrit for detachment, or non-possessiveness. It is the fifth and last yama (restraint, moral discipline) in Yoga. In this post, I will dive a little deeper into why observing this yama is so important, and share a few tips and insights about how we can do that in daily life.
It is very common it is to become attached. We easily get attached to our possessions, home, friends, lovers, and even to ideas and expectations about who we think we are supposed to be. I find it a little bit too basic to spend too much time talking about detaching from the things we "own." The main point is to observe our relationship to material possessions, becoming aware of the level of attachment we have to them. It's about how we (would) react if we were to lose them. You can have a harmonious relationship with the things you “own” in a detached way by appreciating them for what they are, using them with care, and being O.K. with the fact that change is always happening and at any given moment we could lose everything we once took for granted. Detachment is all about how we relate to the things we have and the people in our lives - every single one of them is a teacher if we are open to see it from that perspective. Your personal relationship to people and possessions gives a very clear indication of where you stand with aparigraha at this point in your life. I invite you to take a moment to check in with yourself. Ask yourself the right questions. Where are you possessive? Where are you trying to hang on to something? What serves you, and what doesn’t? You need to learn to detach and let go in order to keep expanding.
As a side note, there is another term in Sanskrit related to aparigraha: vairagya, meaning dispassion, detachment, or renunciation from the pains and pleasures in the material world (Maya). Us humans seem to be programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We get attached to that which gives us pleasure. This makes that practising and observing aparigraha can at times feel as if we are fighting against a natural instinct. When you come to look at it from the perspective of a higher mind however, you can observe it all from a different level, and notice how all of your actions are influenced by your level of awareness and the state of your consciousness. The Bhagavad Gita presents great teachings about karma yoga and the importance of non-attachment to the fruits of our actions.
Many of us want to go to God, and yet perhaps at some point we wonder: wait, will we find all the worldly pleasures we love also in heaven? The thing is that, to really evolve, we need to be ready to let go of our attachments to create space for what is new. Even energy has an expiry date - once something has served its purpose, we need to learn to let it go, otherwise it becomes toxic. Everything is impermanent, of passing nature. By letting go we become more free. More present. Observing aparigraha can be so liberating. If you want to attain freedom, you must start first of all by giving freedom. Do not force your expectations on people. Do not try to possess them. Treat them as if they were God because every single human being is essentially divine.
As with many things with life, and with spiritual endeavors in particular, challenges arise sooner or later. Surely, all of us can recall a moment in our lives when we felt we never wanted it to end. Moments where we never wanted someone to go. The tears of saying goodbye. The heavy heartache of a loss of a good friend or a family member. Some common challenges that tend to come up around aparigraha are often about personal relationships and jealousy - be those about a person, personal qualities, possessions and money, titles/professions/ social status and such. Challenges are gifts. They present us an opportunity to grow, to evolve, to constantly open ourselves more and more to become a channel of the Divine. Aparigraha brings you one step closer to liberation. Look at your relationship to things and people in your life. This is what aparigraha is about!
Something to be said about unconditional love, is that it is free of attachment. Some people consider jealousy to be a sign of love, but nothing is less true. Jealousy is possessive and coming from the ego and a place of self-interest, while pure love is free. It comes from the heart and selflessness - a sincere longing for the other's happiness and wellbeing. Big difference there.
Attachment also relates to ideas we have. How many times have you entered a new stage of your life feeling full of anticipation, excitement, and expectations? There is an attachment prevalent to the idea of a perfect "new life" and what that is supposed to all include. Also in regards to this, detachment and letting go are important. In this way, we are open to receive whatever the universe has in store for us.
LIVING IN CONTEXT
So, how to be detached, but not indifferent? It’s simple. By acknowledging and fully living in the present moment! When we can be fully present with what is, and melt into it, we come to realize that no matter what situation we are in, it is OK, because nobody can touch or hurt the Self. How can we trust, let go, and surrender in a world that’s so full of pain, hate and suffering? By cultivating faith my friend! And throughout it all, remembering the play of life! It doesn't serve us to take everything so seriously all the time.
When observing aparigraha, we must of course remember to also observe the other yamas and niyamas in the context of any given situation. Every situation is unique, and you will needless to say need to use your common sense when dealing with situations in life. For example, when being detached one must also maintain ahimsa (non-violence, the first yama) - in other words: be nice. Asteya (non-theft, the third yama) is directly connected to aparigraha. When someone steals, they are taking something into their possession which was not given to them otherwise. That’s a direct violation of aparigraha. It’s also linked to santosa (contentment, the second niyama)- being content with what is at any given moment, embracing the passing nature of it all rather than fighting it or trying to hold on to it or in other words possess it. Even satyam (truthfulness, the second yama) is connected to aparigraha - when living in truth, or living with presence in what is, one realizes that nothing is ours to possess. All the things we are given can be perceived as tools, borrowed for our evolution. So living in satyam naturally brings you to a state of aparigraha. In this way, we can make connections between aparigraha and all the other yamas and niyamas, and put it in context. Drawing from my personal experience, the closer you observe the yamas and niyamas in daily life, the more blessings seem to arrive “out of the blue.” The yamas and niyamas serve as tools in our lives to help us get through this spiritual experience as human beings.
I would like to speak a little bit about spiritual bypassing - very common these days with the growing number of people who claim or attempt to live spiritually focused lives. Sometimes, principles from the traditional philosophy are twisted to conveniently back- up a choice that basically entails not dealing with a given issue at hand. Letting go should not be mistaken for not addressing or ignoring issues in your life. It’s like people like to do some kind of convenient, selective detachment, while deep down knowing very well they are lying to themselves.
When trying to be detached, it is easy to go into a state of indifference. We need to be careful with that. Indifference does not honour higher love. Everyone knows how painful the "silent treatment" can be. Indifference is a subtle form of pretending a given issue is not happening, as if denying an aspect of reality. Indifference has this “I don’t care” vibe to it. Being indifferent about something is like turning a blind eye to a situation the Universe is presenting you for a reason. It is something for you to look at. You could choose to be grateful for that! To not want to look at it is denying ourselves an opportunity to grow. I’m not saying we should concern ourselves with everything by spending time on everything. We all have preferences and need to prioritize our actions according to our life's purpose (dharma). It’s important to be selective and focused about how we spend our energy, otherwise it’s scattered and we lose potential.
Only you have the power to free yourself. The only prison is your mind. Release what you no longer need. Let go of "have to’s", and turn them into "want to’s." When we do this, our motivation changes and it has a very positive influence on the way we do things and their outcome. Enjoy a healthy diet suitable to your dosha constitution. Do Yoga every day. Use the tools you have at hand to live a good life. That’s it really. It just takes a little bit of willpower and motivation to do it everyday and you’re good to go. When you’re not motivated, do Yoga anyway, and you will find yourself getting inspired at some point throughout the practice. And if you don’t get inspired, this is ok too, you can detach from the idea that you have to always be inspired :)
You don’t have to live in poverty. Abundance is beautiful, and above all it is what you are. Aparigraha doesn’t mean you have to donate all your stuff to a temple and go live in a cave wearing some ragged robes. It doesn’t mean you have to pretend you’re not jealous sometimes. Living according to the yamas and niyamas is not meant to make your life difficult. On the contrary, it meant to make your life easy and prosperous. It’s about observance and living harmoniously, not about living a militaristic lifestyle.
Change is the only constant. You need to let go of who you think you are to come to fully embody who you really are. Don’t steal that chance from yourself! Trust the Universe, it is abundant. Enlightenment is within our reach right now. It is not complicated. It is simple! The Universe is infinite, and is therefore full of endless possibilities, why would you want to hold on to anything and deprive yourself of the opportunity to evolve? By constantly letting go, you embrace new opportunities and stay with the rightnowness of this moment, which is where you will find all there is.
With love and presence,