Welcome back my friends, we have finally made it all the way to the final yama - aparigraha.
Aparigraha comes from the sanskrit root parigraha which means 'to amass', 'to crave', 'to seek', 'to seize' and because we see an 'a' at the beginning of the word, here it infers what not to do. So then, we can say this yama is all about moderation, non- attachment and non-greed.
Wouldn't you agree that if the world as a whole practiced just this one yama, we would be in a much better state of affairs? That due to our unquenchable thirst for more and more and our unsustainable consumption and exploitation we have caused an incredible amount of destruction and damage to our beautiful mother earth. I believe this could have to do with the fact that somehow it has been accepted that life 'success' and happiness is equated with the things we have, the house we own, the car we drive and the amount of air miles we accumulate to exotic places around the globe. The thing is, all of this comes at a high price and usually that price is the exact thing we are thinking we are getting the whole time - our happiness.
I recently met someone who proves this very well. They had arrived to a point in their life where they felt trapped, and the trap was of their very own making. This person had sacrificed so much to climb the ladder of success, to reach the height of their career, to get that dream house in the most perfect village where they always wanted to live, but was the price they had to pay along the way worth it? Whilst they were putting all of their time and attention towards work, they had little time for their family. Their marriage was falling apart and their relationship with their child was not showing promise either. Sure, they were living very well and had everything they could want materialistically, but more and more they were loosing what really mattered. The solution was simple, and they knew exactly what was needed to bring everything back on track. They needed to work less hours to spend more quality time with the family and to reduce work stress so that when they were with the family, they were actually emotionally available as well. Easy solution, but not easy to achieve. The trap was, they had built this lifestyle that took a lot of energy to maintain. They admitted that they couldn't cut down on work because that meant they could no longer afford the house and the lifestyle that they had spent so long trying to achieve, and they couldn't bear the fact that if they gave it up now, they would never get to actually enjoy the fruits of their tireless labour. I felt this person was trapped in a never ending chasing of one's tail and an
example of how when we focus on amassing material things what we build can actually be more of a prison then a paradise, and how only half the battle is in fighting for these things, then comes the battle of keeping these things in fear that loosing them could be worse then never having them.
"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it."
Luckily, I learned this lesson the hard way when I was only just a teenager. Some people can't believe that I was VERY materialistic once upon a time, and very high maintenance! I think it came about in middle school when I became increasingly aware of the fact I was much poorer than the rest of my classmates. They were all sporting designer clothes, and my mother wanted to take me shopping at Walmart. I very distinctively remember telling someone that I didn't wear labeled clothing because I didn't believe in labels. HA! As soon as I could get a job, I got 3 and made sure that everything I wore, head to toe was indeed a well known brand. Not only that, but I also spent a lot of money on my grooming, highlights, haircuts, tanning, gym... my goodness it is expensive to be a girl!
Then, the time came when I really thought I needed a new car. I was still living at home with my parents and maxed out on credit cards but I was working 3 jobs, so of course I could afford a new car. I really wanted a Jeep Wrangler and spotted this beauty of a machine at a dealer nearby. It was crimson red, with big bulky tires and chrome details. It was a dream, and I could just about afford it with my 3 salaries put together. So, I went and bought it. I can't lie, it did bring me a tremendous amount of pleasure. Summers with the top and doors off cruising around the beach with friends, it was the American dream. Then one day it hit me, I have no money! The jeep drank gasoline and after I paid for gas, I didn't have anything left. My credit card debt was getting out of control and I started getting panic attacks when I would think about my financial situation. Plus, I was still living at home with my parents, which is not where I saw myself at 19. I remember that aha moment where I realised the key to life was not 'looking rich' but to actually have money in the bank. A week later, literally, I got into an accident that totalled the Jeep. Luckily I was ok, and actually it was like a little miracle. I was free from the debt of that car, and I promised ( once the credit cards where paid off) to never put myself in that situation again.
Later that year, now financially free, I went travelling and the minimalist theme grew even deeper roots into my life. For about 2 years, I had to condense all of my belongings into a backpack or suitcase, and surviving on very little meant that I had to forget about high maintenance grooming etiquetes and shopping for new clothes. Spending time in South Africa and seeing a place worlds away from the consumeristic/ materialistic America where people have everything but happiness, to seeing a country where they have nothing but were always abundant in joy, really made me start to question the values and beliefs of the culture where I was raised. Was the American dream really a 'big fish', nothing more than a mirage? I met a lot of wealthy people in my time as some of my jobs were working for the super rich and elite on their private yachts and in high end country clubs, and what I honestly observed time and time again, was that money wasn't buying them happiness. In fact, I saw a lot of truth in what Biggie Smalls said ' mo money, mo problems'.
I'm not condemning striving for materialist or financial gain, and I am definitely not trying to imply that wealth is bad. It's wonderful to have wealth, and we all need a certain amount of it to be genuinely happy and content. I also still love luxury too, don't get me wrong. I might be much more sensible and frugal these days, but I can still splash out and enjoy the finer things in life. What I learned was that money wasn't the problem -that having money wasn't the problem, but being attached to it was. We have to be careful that by having things, we don't become a slave to those things. They should bring us pleasure, not suffering in the end, and we generally could be just as happy, maybe even happier with a whole lot less.
"Detachment is not that you own nothing, detachment is that nothing owns you." - Bhagavad Gita
Inviting more minimalism in our life is a great way of observing this yama, taking stock of what we really need to be happy is not only good for our wallet but our minds, heart and the planet too. Our culture of quantity over quality is really doing a number on our natural resources and is just unsustainable. There are alot of trends about making things with better, more eco friendly materials, but nothing will really be as effective than just buying less crap that we don't need. Aren't we just being greedy? That tree looks far more beautiful and is far more useful to our planet still standing in the forest than being cut down to make yet another unused side table.
I apply this awareness of greed to food also. I can totally be greedy when it comes to food. Buffet anyone? Free hotel breakfast? I will always eat more than I know I should. It's like this very difficult to override instinct to feast when the feast is available. BUT, I also do know that I have to consider how much time and resources it took to grow and prepare this food, and... the consequences on my body for overeating. I remember an Indian friend of mine who always offered their lunch to us before they ate. Most times, people would politely decline, other times, by the time they had passed the dish around the room, it would return with very little left for them to eat and they were always ok with this. I would think how selfless it was of them and it made me realise how territorial I could be over my food. No way was I giving up my lunch! One day I asked them why they did this, and they said it was just in their culture, they offer their food to their gods/goddesses as a devotional offering before they eat hoping it brings them good karma, so they naturally develop this non- attachment to their food and this culture of sharing. Then he said, and maybe by sharing my food, I stay a little thinner too, for isn't it the greediest people who are the fattest?
The important message we get from non-attachment, is that our worth, our value and who we are shouldn't be entangled in what we own, our job titles, our class, our looks, our health ect ect. All of these are changeable factors, who we are is unchangeable. When our identity is confused with something that is transitionary, we suffer a loss of self when the time of transition comes. For instance, I know someone who was once an superb athlete, always on the go until they caught a severe illness that damaged their lungs so they no longer had the capacity to exercise to such extremes. It took them a great deal of suffering and pain to except this new reality as they only knew themselves as a great athlete. "If I can't run, I don't know who I am" "sitting on the couch is just not me" I heard them say often. I also know someone who was in the military and their only focus was getting into the SAS, until an explosion took both legs and part of their hands as well. Talk about a complete shift in identity for someone who totally identified themselves by their physical bodies and capabilities. However, who he was didn't change at all, only his outer form. I know personally too how difficult it can be to untangle yourself from a relationship you identified with for so long and how daunting it can be to re-discover who you are without your 'other half'. That is why the expression exists,' to find ourselves again' because we can become so attached to who we are in a relationship, that we loose ourselves in the process. Same when it comes to being parents. It's important to never 'loose yourself' and always hold tight to who you are underneath it all. The Buddha explains that attachment ( to things, people, position, labels) creates suffering because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.
A good exercise to try is to meditate on the question "who am I"? Who am I beyond my physical body, the colour of my hair, of my eyes, of my skin? Who am I beyond my gender, my ethnicity, my religion/ beliefs? Who am I beyond my nationality or political party? Who am I beyond all the stuff I own? Who am I beyond my family and friends? Who am I beyond my job title and the role I play in society? Who am I beyond my financial status? Who am I beyond my physical health and condition? Who am I beyond my mind. Keep digging beyond all the layers of yourself until you get to the essence of you that is the unchangeable you.
That unchangeable you is pretty special my friend, may you never loose sight of that 🙏
Thank you for taking this journey through the yamas with us. I hope you find them relevant navigation tools to guide you through this life.
"In the end only these things matter...How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?"