Saturday, August 21, 2010

Settling in and pondering aparigraha

Last week I promised a more unpacked, settled, and firmly planted me, and I am overjoyed to say that me is indeed here.  I'm sitting at our desk in the nook (as we call it - our 2nd bedroom we're using as a practice room/office - it is teeeeeny tiny) and reveling in this moment of being home.

This current phase in homemaking that we're in - where the boxes are all unpacked and the bare bones are set up, but there's still a list of Things We Need to Buy and Organize and Wouldn't a Wall Clock be Nice to Have? - is really fun and exciting, amidst the occasional chaos and the fact that it costs money.

It's been a particularly interesting time for me, because I've spent the last few years of my life learning to live with as little as possible.  I've gone from tiny theatre-provided apartment to tiny theatre-provided apartment - not to mention first tiny New York apartment - and then being an unofficial 4th roommate at Marc's...

Well.  You get the idea.  Minimalism was the name of the game.  It kept things simpler if things could just fit in the back of my car or a pickup truck, and not buying a lot meant saving money that I didn't really have on hand to spend anyway.

So now suddenly faced with the prospect of "nesting," of living in an apartment that is completely mine and my partner's, of staying put in a place for longer than a's gotten me thinking a lot about attitudes toward "stuff," materialism, and the yogic concept of aparigraha - commonly translated as "non-hoarding."

No doubt about it, we live in a major consumer goods based culture.  Especially living in New York, where you can't go anywhere without walking past a store of some kind that no doubt contains something you want or need or, more accurately, think you want or need.  We're absurdly blessed in this country to have ready access to anything we could want or need to make ourselves comfortable and sated, and it's just as absurdly easy to get sucked into mindless, harmful materialism.

How do you draw the line between being excited to set up your home and grateful for your comfortable surroundings, and becoming consumed with consumerism?

Stuff - and that really is all it is, no matter how shiny or chic or cute or practical - all too quickly and easily can become too much of a main focus in our lives, trumping more meaningful connections or being able to rest in gratitude with the abundance of what we already have.  Bringing it back to moving for a moment - it's truly amazing how quickly one's attitude will change toward their belongings throughout the course of a move.  When you're packing and planning out the move, who doesn't get to a breaking point where they just want to throw out or burn all their stuff because they're sick of dealing with it and transporting it?  And yet, as soon as it's safely unpacked and tucked away and back in that plastic bin in the back of the closet that you know you'll never use, it's important and precious again because it's yours.

Aparigraha, as I mentioned before, is a yogic concept that is part of the yoga sutras.  In it, Patanjali (the ancient sage who authored them) outlines 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas - often viewed as a kind of "ten commandments" of yoga, although there's no smiting involved if you fall off the wagon. (As far as I know) Going with the commandment metaphor, one might interpret the Yamas as the Shalt Not's and the Niyamas as the Shall's.

Apart from being one of the most fun to say, aparigraha is one of my favorite Yamas because I think it has a really profound relevance to the way we live our lives in our present society.  How often, when cleaning out closets or drawers, do we find clothing we've either never worn or haven't seen in years and have forgotten about?  Yet having discovered this clothing, or whatever object it might be, how often do we cling to it, claiming to need it 'just in case?'

Nischala Joy Devi writes eloquently of aparigraha in her amazing book, The Secret Power of Yoga.  It's a must-read for anyone looking to explore the yoga sutras, and although she wrote it from a predominantly feminine perspective, men can get a lot out of this clear, engaging book as well.  She frames her definition: "Acknowledging abundance, we recognize the blessings in everything and gain insight into the purpose for our worldly existance."

She writes, "As a nation, our facade of abundance is possible because of what we imaginatively call credit, which in reality is debt...This masquerade is facilitated by our engorged belief in propriety and greed.  Creating a complex misunderstanding of the flow of abundance, we tend to overlook the premise that when money is owed, obligation is accrued.  Most importantly, we have distracted ourselves from the true happiness within by impeding the access into the spiritual vistas with material wants and needs.  If we are able to live within the material energy allotted us and generously use the word, 'Enough,' abundance cascades in our direction.  We become free."

Within my own life, this is certainly something I always struggle with, particularly at this shop-happy time of setting up house.  I don't think there's anything wrong with getting excited about a shiny new tea kettle (nerdy, perhaps, but not wrong) as long as the tea kettle, the bedside table, the desk, the apartment itself - as long as whatever it is serves as a platform of comfort and care from which I feel free to pursue my dreams and cultivate happiness instead of the source from which I derive that happiness.

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