Thursday, January 19, 2012

Grasping and Contentment

Does this happen to you?  Whenever someone asks me what I want for my birthday or Christmas - or anything, I suppose - I can never think of anything when they ask.  My mind goes completely blank, and then I think, "I don't need anything."  Inevitably, however, I get my gears going and can think of a few things I'd like.  The holidays come and go in a crazy-joyful flurry...but my gears keep turning.  I salivate over my gift cards.  I think of how nice it was to go home, I think of lovely gifts given and received, and discover my mind isn't ready to get out of that shopping, wanting, and coveting mode.

I'm not usually a big shopper or someone who daydreams about stuff.  I tend to plot for ways to simplify my tiny apartment by getting rid of things that I already have.  Where is this crazy grasping for stuff coming from?

I think it has to do with the time of year:  Mid-January.  The holidays are over, the reality of the challenges of our resolutions are starting to hit us, and the weather is bitter cold with the sweet promise of spring still months away.  It can be a rough time, and it can definitely be hard to stay present with this occasional bleak reality.

My mind flies to things that I want, to spring, to when I can leave the house in flip flops and a light whisper of a jacket, and in my specific case, to my fabulous London-Paris extravaganza Marc and I are going on at the end of March.  It either grasps to something I can give myself right now to create a little shot of happiness, excitement, and novelty, or to the future where all those three things will surely be in abundance, because at least my fingers and toes won't be freezing cold and solid white as I huddle by my radiator in my bedroom.

All this grasp-y mental chatter has  gotten me thinking a bit about aparigraha and santosha.  They are a yama and a niyama, respectively, and they perfectly complement each other. Aparigraha is "non-hoarding" (or non-grasping if you like); santosha is "contentment."  It's hard to imagine one of those qualities without the other.

Coming down from a season that seems to be all about asking ourselves and our loved ones what we want, giving and receiving gifts, and parties, food, and drink in excess, it can seem like a fairly dramatic shift to suddenly go back to the daily grind in cold, cold January.  How do you ease yourself out of grasp-y mode and get yourself back to a place of balance - or better yet, a taste of contentment?

This feels like the part of the blog where I recommend a practice or a solution, and while I have a couple of things to share, this is something I'm still struggling with and exploring in myself.  What I can do is share with you a couple of techniques I've been exploring to get my monkey mind to chill out a little bit on the subject, and to find some contentment right here in chilly, quiet January.

-Actively cultivate patience in the day-to-day.  Find at least one instance per day where you know your usual inclination will be to get irritable and restless and try focusing on your breath and trusting the situation will pass instead.  Whether it be waiting in line, being stuck in traffic, or waiting for news, just finding one time to practice once a day can help change your mindset.

-Give yourself a 5-day rule before buying something that's not a necessity (and potentially breaking a New Year's Resolution about money!).  You'll be able to really mull the purchase over, more fully understand your desire or perceived need, and then make a rational choice outside the impulsive heat of the moment.  You may decide you don't need this item after all (or if you do, you may find a better bargain in the five days!)

-Sit with your desire - whether it be for an object or for the future to hurry up and get here.  Notice it, and then identify with who it is in your brain that's doing the noticing - the inner Witness.

-Cultivate gratitude, which can help us see that we all already have everything we need and we are where we are supposed to be.  Some people like to keep a gratitude journal, writing down 3-5 things they're grateful for every day or every week.

These are my ideas so far, Blogverse.  Anyone else have any tips or ideas that works for them?

Time is going to move at the speed it always does.  It can go painfully slow when we want it to go fast, and pass by in a flash when we want to slow down and savor.  Spring will get here when it gets here, and your life will go on as it should whether or not you get a new pair of pants or shoes.  Cultivating acceptance, abundance, gratitude, and contentment can make each moment of each day, no matter what time of year, so much sweeter.

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