Yamas: Aparigraha [Nonattachment]

We often associate yoga with asana, or physical postures. However, it goes much deeper than that. In fact, the direct understanding of yoga is actually “union with the divine.” This means that, when I “do” yoga, I experience it as it moves through me, sweeping out all the spaces where my shadow hides. Then, after being arguably the most disruptive guest I have hosted, it asks me, “What are you beholden to?”

So, I listen. It makes a fair point.

You likely know by now that the yamas are one of the eight limbs that can allow us to experience yoga. The yamas are “restraints,” and they represent guidelines for moral conduct. Among them are ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), and brahmacharya (right use of energy). The last of them, aparigraha, can have several translations, including:

Non-greediness. Non-grasping. Non-possessiveness. Non-coveting. Non-clinging.

All these lend themselves to my favorite understanding of aparigraha: nonattachment, or letting go. We hold on to possessions, to wants, to upgrades, to expectations, to grudges, to resentments, to hopes, to dreams, to disappointments.

Holding onto attachment, we prevent authenticity. You cannot trust the net will appear because you can hardly even leap if you are clinging to this or that. When we let go of our attachments, we are able to remain immersed in the only omnipresent experience: the here and now. This leaves us with the conundrum of remaining engaged and immersed in life’s pleasures and pains without getting stuck.

Getting stuck can look like a number of things. It happens whenever we arrive to the present juggling all we carried there. Because, we show up with weight. When we arrive with attachments, we carry everything we are clinging to like the inconvenience of luggage on a tightly packed train. This prevents us from actually appreciating, experiencing, and moving with whatever stands before us. In short, our arms are just too full to accept what life is giving us now.

Sometimes, nonattachment means enjoying what you have instead of longing for more. Other times, it means forgetting your heartbreak in favor of the inviting person in front of you. Or, owning that you cannot control certain outcomes and having the tough conversation, anyway. Letting go allows us to experience what is, without grasping, without expectation, without possession, without the added work of multi-tasking.

Without multi-tasking, we are left with our fullest capacity to experience. It becomes easier to see things as they are (even if it is our own discomfort with the present situation). Letting go of attachment to how it should be means we can actually go through the wave…without thrashing; without gasping for air; without clinging to the safety of the shore behind us; and without fearing the wave will never spit us back out again.

Aparigraha asks that you become a vessel, because-like whatever it is you set free in its practice-everything is momentary. It may hurt. It may feel vulnerable. It may leave you completely bare. This is because, when we experience the present without our wall of attachments, we are finally able to experience true intimacy. Once you start seeing things as they are, so, too, are you able to recognize when you are fully seen.

And, truly seeing and being seen is the most beautiful thing of all.

Further Discussion

  • What comes to mind when you hear about aparigraha? Are there any areas of your life that could benefit from nonattachment?
  • Do you notice yourself clinging to anything consistently? What is the nature of what you’re attached to? Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.?
  • Visualize what it looks like to show up to the here and now fully. What does that mean to you?
  • Have you experienced true intimacy? Consider what true intimacy looks like through the lens of aparigraha.

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