This is the final installment of a five part series on the Yamas, the ethical guidelines for how to live a yogic life. (Parts one, two, three, and four are over here: Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, and Celibacy.)
The fifth Yama is Aparigraha, which translates as non-greed, non-hoarding, or (my personal favorite) non-grasping. This is one that comes up pretty regularly for most of us. Whether or not we notice it is something else entirely.
We live in a greedy culture.
Advertising is a gazillion dollar industry, the sole purpose of which is to inspire greed, endlessly stoking the desire for more. More money, a better house, a nicer car, fancier clothes. The list goes on and on. (If those don’t ring true, how about these? A Pinterest-worthy living room, a pastel colored bike with a basket full of flowers on the front, clothes that make you feel like you live in an Anthropologie catalog, etc.) If greedlessness seems inaccessible, you’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. Capitalism runs on the belief that we never have enough. (Does that make Aparigraha an anti-capitalist sentiment???)
It works in non-materialistic ways too. You’re single and you’re constantly pining away for that special someone. You finally find them, and a few months in, you remember how much easier things were when you were single. You’re in Downward Dog and you can’t wait to be doing backbends instead. You’re in Wheel Pose and you wish the teacher would put you back in Down Dog already.
We often want what we don’t have, and this wanting cripples our ability to enjoy what we do have.
Here’s a story to illustrate the point. (Full disclosure: I heard this somewhere a loooong time ago and have no idea if it’s true. Extensive Googling only turns up references to motivational speakers using it with no evidence to back it up. Urban myth or no, the metaphor works and it’s stuck with me all this time so I’m transforming it into a fairy tale here.)
Once upon a time, zookeepers did an experiment on their monkeys. The monkeys were well fed and cared for, happy little creatures. One day, the zookeepers placed coconuts along one side of the cage. Each coconut had a small hole drilled into it and was filled with a sweet treat. The monkey would stick its paw into the coconut and grab the treat, but to its dismay, the hole in the coconut was just the size of the monkeys open paw. When it clenched its fist to grasp the treat, it could no longer remove its paw. For hours, monkeys sat around the cage with coconut fists, unable to remove their paws, and yet, unable to let go of the treat.
This is us. We're all wandering around with coconut fists. We want what we can’t have so badly that we spend days, months, years pining away for it. All the while, our bellies grumble, but our paws are stuck so we can’t eat the food we’ve already got.
Aparigraha is relinquishing the desire to have more than we need, and instead practicing appreciation for what we’ve already got.
There’s no happy ending until we open up our fists and let go.
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