Aparigraha – learning to be is part of the letting go

“Knowledge is learning something everyday,  wisdom is learning to let go of something every day”  Zen Proverb

This yama is often used as an example of how not to hoard material possessions.  But where is the largest amount of de-cluttering in our life truly?  In our attachment to emotions.

Aparigraha is one of the central teachings in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita.

Aparigraha roughly translates into ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. The sanskrit ‘graha’ means to take, to seize, or to grab, ‘pari’ means ‘on all sides’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself  – basically, it means ‘non’.  This important yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.

Material possessions are one of the most noticeable examples of not being very aparigraha. How many pairs of shoes do we really need? How many handbags?

When was the last time you did a good wardrobe clean out? Or reviewed the amount of decorations, ornaments, even coffee cups, you have in the house. Even the amount of food we keep in the cupboard speak volumes about our level of parigraha.

If you are experiencing rising amounts of anxiety reading this, be kind to yourself – this aparigraha is difficult to practice, particularly when it comes to our emotions.

Why do it then?

Practicing aparigraha helps de-clutter your mind. Clearing the mind helps with focus and balance. All those thoughts that bounce around in the early stages of meditation disappear as you de-clutter from the outside in.

Rock climber clinging to a cliff.

Hanging onto something? For dear life?  What might happen if you let it go?

Hanging on

All of us have a particular emotion we like – cling to if you were honest. Do you know what that emotion is? Sometimes the emotion is not so pleasant. Irritation, anger, sadness are particularly potent habit emotions – unpleasant, but powerfully addictive.

I know a fellow yogi who hangs onto perfection and seems to live in a world shifting between anxiety and anger.  There is a ‘correct’ way for everything, so many things are just ‘not right’ for her.  At an intellectual level, she understands what is happening, but is at a loss on how to ‘fix’ it.  Why can’t she just be happy?  She laments. Nothing appears to ‘work’. She could see the ‘rat wheel’, but not the rat.

She spoke to the right person, cos my attachment emotion is being happy. But, you say, couldn’t we all be much happier? Yes, but I would do happy, when I wasn’t happy at all, when I was annoyed at someone for being thoughtless or cruel or rude.  When someone at work gossiped about someone else ‘(threw them under the bus’ is the term), I would smile and look away, thinking I was practicing non-attachment.  I was practicing avoidance.

Always look on the bright side of life, have another drink, a giggle, be humorous, but do not experience pain, sadness or suffering. That’s wallowing. Or so I used to think.

I have learnt to let go of needing to be happy, which at the same time, allowed me to let years of repressed grief and distress bubble up to the surface (which took a bit of time to de-clutter), and then let that go too. All the while watching my meditation practice, like a morning sky, clear the way for me at every point where I felt lost in either my misery or my empty happiness. I discovered peace, a kind of deep happiness that instead of shining like the bright afternoon sun, tends to glow like morning light.

That yogi who spoke to me – her attachment emotion was anxiety.  Desire for the perfect life is nearly always driven by deep anxiety, that somehow she is not good enough, and that as a consequence, neither was anyone or anything else.  That’s a rather large rat, and not something that yoga can necessarily ‘fix’ (although a good therapist would definitely help).

The other emotion we love to hang onto is grief – this emotion runs so deep, we are able to express only a fraction of it in public. We get loads of sympathy with grief from family, friends and strangers, often the kind of support to enables the emotion to continue on far longer than is really good for us. I can hear indignation – what do you mean, I should be allowed to grieve for as long as I need to. Everyone says so. Well, they do say this, so long as we do not show too much of it. And those who say that, don’t hang around us all the time, either, I have noticed.

Long story on why they want this to happen (ask a psychotherapist next time you see one), but as a Buddhist, grief needs to be let go, too. And there is never a good time to let this one go, so at the same time as we grieve, we have to build courage. 

Ask yourself – what is it about being hurt, sad, super happy that is so much more comfortable than being truly at peace? What could be my emotional pay off in continuing to attach to this emotion?

These are uncomfortable thoughts to be having, they challenge our habit energies, which have had years of process improvement, ably helped by that monkey mind.

Big Breath

What could be my emotional pay off in hanging onto my ‘favourite’ feeling?

Letting go

Whenever someone says to me, let go, I get a teeny irritated. Letting go is not easy to do, particularly when someone tells you to. Mostly, it happens as the result of doing something that improves or moves your forward from that place of stickiness. Like the bear, if you want to get to shore, you have to let go of the log and swim. You have to ‘be’.

Meditation is the place where we can learn to ‘be’. We see with greater clarity, those emotions that serve us, and those we need to let go.   Meditation helps us develop another ‘habit’ of learning to let beliefs and feelings go, not an easy thing to do. 

Portrait of Holy Sadhu man

You do not have to a Sadhu, or ascetic, to practice aparigraha. Might help to get tips from them, though.


    1. Spring clean your house – Possessions take up space and energy—in your head as well as in your home. Try this: Every time you buy something new, let go of something old—give it away, or toss it out. By letting go of things from the past, you can live more fully in the present. Regularly spend a day without your Iphone, computer, go without make up (for girls or boys).
    2. Breathe – When we hold onto an emotion, we also tend to hold our breath. This makes us even more anxious. Not to mention shortening your life span. Use the deep breathing from the Urban Monk meditation workshops. You will feel more relaxed, open, and spontaneous.
    3. Self-Care – When we cling to an emotion, we also tend to cling to and control those who are closest to us. Sooner or later, we also spiral into destructive habit patterns (that monkey mind at it again) to keep that emotion going. Instead, find ways to nurture yourself so you feel independent and strong in your own right. Allow others to be who they need to be. Do something left of field you have always wanted to do, that photography course, landscaping certificate
    4. Learn to observe –  Every time you experience a strong negative or positive emotion, learn to ‘feel’ it and to sit back ‘away’ from it. We become our personal therapist. Explore how you feel, and ask why you might feel like this – keep asking this question. Learn to gracefully say goodbye replace any negative feelings with a positive thought or feeling.
    5. Forgive – Forgive yourself first. For everything. You may not know why right now, but you will. Only offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you, once you have completely forgiven yourself. The first word to remove from your vocabulary is ‘should’. ‘Shoulds’ are rules in disguise, sent as reminders from our monkey mind that we are not good enough for anything except a bunch of hard to live up to standards.
    6. Selfless service – Expand your capacity by giving to others. Share your time, your energy, your knowledge, your attention, your connections. Spend one day a week in selfless service – the research is in, this does lead to a path of peaceful happiness. It could be thinking of your significant other/s (partner, children, dear friends), and finding ways to make them feel special. It could be volunteering somewhere where your skills could be useful. Practice giving without expecting anything in return.

We all have something to release that is no longer useful – it is often that which we least expect, and often something we see as an ‘essential’ part of ourselves. 

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