Fall in New England is nothing short of spectacular. There is color and light everywhere. Even on the gray days the trees shine. As full and bright as the show is, I wait and watch for the trees to lovingly let go of their leaves. The fiery leaves don’t fall, but dance their way to the ground. I am amazed how the season shows us the joy in letting go.
In yoga philosophy, the season reminds many of us of Aparigraha. Aparigraha is the letting go. Translated by B.K.S. Iyengar as, “without possessions, without greed,” we can think of it also as non-grasping. In this consumer culture, how often do we feel weighed down by the material things we want, and perhaps the societal things we think we should want or have? All this wanting inhibits our ability to feel at ease within our lives. Aparigraha is freedom from wanting more and more.
Iyengar writes in his commentary on Sutra II.39 that, “When one is steady in living without surplus possessions and without greed, one realizes the true meaning of one’s life…Aparigraha means not only non-possession and non-acceptance of gifts but also freedom from rigidity of thought. Holding on to one’s thoughts is also a form of possessiveness…” How often do we find ourselves grasping to old thoughts or beliefs about ourselves or our relationships?
Aparigraha is subtle and difficult to practice, so how can we invite the practice of aparigraha into our lives? Gratitude. Find gratitude around you. Small gratitude, big gratitude, whatever size you like. Wherever you can find it. Finding gratitude is like finding a small sanctuary amongst all this wanting and limited thinking. When we find it, gratitude suggests, maybe we really are okay. Maybe even there is an abundance of tiny things to be grateful for. All of a sudden, those tiny things start adding up, and we find ourselves in the ever elusive “present moment.” Practicing gratitude can lead us to notice the abundance around us, giving us maybe a little sliver of wholeness, and a sense of fulfillment. When we can experience fulfillment in a single moment, it is surprising how little we actually need.
The next time you find yourself wanting, notice how it makes you feel. Notice the sensations in your body. How do these thoughts of wanting manifest in the body? Where do you feel them? Once you’ve noticed them, take a slow deep breath in and out. Begin to look at the world directly around you. Is there anything directly in front of you that you are grateful to see? Perhaps a fiery tree or a leaf dancing in the wind. Then begin to pick out other things around you. Things in your life, a conversation, a delicious cup of coffee, anything that you are grateful for. As your gratitude list starts to grow notice the sensations in your body again. How do feelings of gratitude manifest in your body? Does gratitude feel different?