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Focus of the Month - Aparigraha

No roots, no marked territory
No promises
Some say this is nothing
I say this is life in open flight.
- Donna Sherman

This month's focus is one of the five Yamas, Aparigraha. The Yamas (sometimes referred to the first branch of the tree of yoga) can be understood as restraints or moral precepts. The yamas are born of insight, wisdom, common sense and are highly practical in nature.

Aparigraha implies non-possessiveness or non-holding onto. In our modern language we might think of it as an increased ability to let things go when letting go is indeed the wise action. Aparigraha can be applied to many dimensions of our life experience from the mundane to the sublime. For example, we might notice that we are holding on to our anger at someone, our self- righteousness, or an appetite for excess consumption. Or, in our asana practice, we might observe how we hold onto our attachment to how we execute a pose or a desire that the class we are attending adhere for a format that we are familiar with. Or perhaps we are holding onto a narrative that our mind has cooked up about our fellow students, our teacher, ourselves or the stranger we came across while on line at the bank that morning. We all hold onto things -- material things and non-material things. It is human to do this and it is not bad. However, when we deliberately choose to observe how we grasp and hold onto things, both physical and non-physical, we open the door for more Aparigraha to enter our life because once we have stopped running on auto pilot and have paused to witness our holding, the frantic energy that causes much of our holding behavior has begun to turn in the direction of softening. The shift towards softening and letting go might be very subtle, almost imperceptible, but shifts tend to occur when we apply the alchemy of mindfulness to any aspect of our life.

Yoga classes are a ripe opportunity to commit to kindly observing ourselves because ultimately our on-the-mat yoga practice places us face to face with ourselves, our habits, our behaviors, our limitations, our relationship with our bodies, the content of our mind and our personal narratives. (And boy do those narratives go on and on and on..!) But, the good news is that as we gently, kindly and perhaps even light- heartedly pay attention to how, when and where we become mired in our holding ways, we are less likely to be their unconscious servant.

The foundation for Aparigraha is born from the immutable fact that all changes, all is impermanent and that our desire to tightly grip things from material possessions to non-material experiences will seed our suffering and work against our spiritual growth. Yoga is not the only system that teaches this principle: similar teachings are found in a host of other wisdom traditions.

In the absolute dimension of life we own nothing. In this relative life here as humans we perceive that we own but when it comes down to it, there just isn't much that we can truly call our own. The 'I, Me, Mine' of the personality will rail against this concept but therein lies the challenge.

The yoga yamas can serve as reminders to pause, pay attention and observe where our tight holding might cause suffering to ourselves and others. Gently applying the principle of Aparigraha will feed the compassionate witness within us and when this witness takes her seat in our hearts and minds the letting go will evolve in its own due time.

Donna Sherman
April 2010