Aparigraha – A Mantra for Being Present and Contented
There is a well-known quote by the late poet Maya Angelou – “We need much less than we think we need”. This, I think, encapsulates what Aparigraha, one of the five Yamas, means.
Google “Aparigraha” and you will find that it is often defined as the concept of non-accumulation, non-possessiveness, non-covetousness or non-greediness. (In Sanskrit, “graha” means to seize or grab, “pari” translates loosely to “on all sides” and the prefix “a” basically means “non”.) Along with the four other Yamas, namely Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (celibacy or non-lustfulness) and Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha is a standard of conducting oneself in relation to others advocated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Translating Aparigraha is well and good, but it may not be immediately apparent how a notion articulated by a sage some 1,700 years ago (and whose birth purportedly entailed falling from the heavens in the form of a little snake into the upturned palms of a virgin yogi) applies in this day and age. The answer to this, I think, is in the simple fact that Patanjali did not create the concept of Aparigraha. Rather, he merely identified it as an ingredient in the recipe for a peaceful and contented life, which would be a tasty dish regardless of which century you live in.
However, given the culture of consumerism and connectivity prevalent today, it is arguably more difficult to practice Aparigraha than it would have been 1,700 years ago (or 50 years ago, for that matter). Advertisements on public transportation try to persuade you that you need that new lipstick, bag or car, and social media platforms and websites surreptitiously plant advertisements based on your recent Google searches, making it that much harder to exercise restraint. Electronic mailers inundate your mailbox daily with the latest “SALE! BUY NOW OR REGRET LATER!” deals, while your newsfeed broadcasts (carefully curated) pictures of your acquaintance’s fabulous lifestyle. I will be the first to admit that I have, on many occasions, played the role of an obedient consumer and clicked the BUY NOW button. I readily admit that a desire to ‘live well’ and ‘be successful’ by today’s standards motivates me to crawl out of bed on Monday morning and get my gluteus maximus (as well as medius and minimus) to work. I will also admit that I need much less than what I convince myself I need.
That is not to say that ambition is necessarily a bad thing, as it is not. Ambition must however be distinguished from blind ambition. In order to draw this distinction, it is imperative that every so often, we take a step back and examine with careful scrutiny and brutal honesty why it is that we want to achieve or obtain the things that we do. This is an examination of oneself in the present moment in order to ascertain if we are coveting goals or items which we do not need, thereby causing ourselves unnecessary stress and discontentment. Personally, I find that the practice of Asana (postures) is a good way of grounding in the present before beginning this process of self-examination; between the flow of breath and movement, there is nowhere else but the present I can be.
In all likelihood, the result of the above process of self-examination would be realising we already possess much more than that which is necessary. Perhaps what may have begun as a process of self-examination may even turn into a process of self-discovery, and an understanding that we will never be satisfied with anything we achieve or obtain unless we are already comfortable with ourselves. With this recognition, hopefully we can then learn to simply let go and be contented.
I’ll leave you now with another quote by Immanuel Kant – “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without”. Now go out there and make Patanjali proud.
(200hr Vinyasa Flow TTC)