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Finding Freedom - The 5th Yama: Aparigraha

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.

- Toni Morrison

As I am writing this, the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere has passed a few days ago and spring cleaning is an ever so popular pastime for many of us. There is a sensation of satisfaction and liberation that comes along with clearing out our overflowing closets, giving away things we no longer need, cleaning our gardens from the remains of winter, and supporting it during the forthcoming spring.

Aparigraha, the last of the five Yamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is walking the path of non-attachment that asks us to not cling to our possessions, stories, and expectations.

While this seems almost overwhelming and impossible at first glance, the realization that I have yet to meet the person who masters this practice is ironically reassuring. Like any spiritual practice, the goal is never to arrive at a sense of accomplishment and completion but rather to return to it again and again, understanding each moment as a new beginning to inquire and reveal more about how the practice unfolds for us.

If we allow ourselves to slow down and look carefully, the opportunities to engage with non-attachment in our lives never cease to appear. The notion of ‘letting go’ has become quite a trendy lifestyle phrase.

And while this collective awareness of the power of release is generally a welcomed development, it holds the risk of becoming shallow, empty, and even harming if we lose sight of the deeper intention of true liberation.

Decluttering our closets and homes is a great activity, especially if we have taken good care of our belongings and are able to gift them to fellow humans for further use. But only when we include the considerations of why we accumulated so much to begin with and how we can change our consumption habits do we reach a more transformative, sustainable, and non-harming level of our practice of non-attachment.

Aparigraha opens the door to look past our small self or ego and get in touch with our true self, our soul. I don’t understand ego as a negative per se but much rather a fact and necessity of our humanness. Only when the ego becomes so predominant that it outshines or even redirects from our soul, we are thrown off balance and in danger of being consumed by our attachments.

If we are able to realize our tight grip around the stories, labels, and expectations we created or allowed others to inflict upon us, we are taking an important step towards freeing ourselves from these restraints and returning to a state where our ego supports and uplifts our soul.

In yoga this is reflected in the concepts of karma and dharma, with karma as particular circumstances directly resulting from our actions and dharma as our higher purpose based on the divine order at our birth.

Practicing aparigraha means attuning our karma to our dharma in a sustainable fashion. Understanding that it is just stories we are telling ourselves about how our life, work, family, etc. should look like, means understanding how we are trapped. Once we start breaking free from this prison, we have to reclaim this newfound freedom over and over again, not letting the expectations and labels of others block our path.

One might argue that this sounds like a whole lot of navel gazing and therefore seems pretty self-serving and detached from life and the accumulation of humanitarian, social justice, and environmental crises we are facing in our world. I would like to counter that a substantial and continuous amount of self-study is not just helpful but required if we intend for our actions to be meaningful and impactful.

How can I truly support the fight for racial equity if I skip facing the fact that I am living a life cushioned by and centered around white privilege? How can I be a credible caretaker of our planet in the eyes of my children and their entire generation if I don’t confront and identify the many ways in which I harm the environment by my actions on a daily basis?

These inquiries are not meant to heap shame on ourselves, but rather to help overcome the fear of leaving behind our comfort zones and attachments and stepping into unfamiliar territory so that true transformation can happen.

The path to liberation begins within.

Instead of looking for external guidance to freedom,we must peel back the inner layers to meet our authentic truth.

Only through truth can we arrive at our liberation.

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