Needs vs Wants - The Eternal Human Struggle!

My apartment on 3/28/18

My apartment on 3/28/18

Liberation Day arrived for me this past Wednesday, 3/28! The exterminator came and did another inspection and said I should be fine now. Yay, I can finally start to take my personals belongings out of the 50 or so plastic bags strewn around my apartment!

For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, please see my blog from last month.

While the last 12 weeks have been a huge challenge, now comes an even bigger challenge. As I start to undertake my biggest spring cleaning to-date, now is the time for me to truly engage in practicing Aparigraha. It's time to let go of stuff I've been holding on to. Now is the time for me to determine what is a need and what is a want. I have a feeling the process ain't going to be easy for me. Does my unease sound familiar to you?

For those of you unfamiliar with Yoga philosophy, Aparigraha is one of the Yamas. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the ethical guidelines for practicing yoga -- the Ten Commandments of Yoga, so to speak. The Yamas are the things we should try not to do, for e.g., don't harm, don't steal. In the case of aparigraha, we should try not to be overly possessive, not to hoard, not to grasp or hold on too tightly, not to be greedy.

Yoga teacher Molly Lannon Kenny offers us some key insights on what we might experience in the absence of practicing aparigraha. She writes:

Our tendency to hold on tightly is something intrinsically human, and provides us with a false sense of control. … [which] leads us to feelings of constriction and scarcity.  We end up having less space, less spaciousness, and we cling to superficial beliefs that cloud our ability to reach for something much deeper to believe in. 

Does this sound familiar to you? I know that when I try to fit too much on my plate, and add too many to-dos into my day, I end up feeling less spacious in my mind and body. I ask myself at times, why am I accumulating so much? Does it come from a place of scarcity within, a feeling that I never have enough and that there's always something more I should be doing? Does it come from a feeling that I need to control everything around me or else my life won't make sense, and I'll experience that uneasy feeling of groundlessness, where things are spinning out of control in and around my life and I feel like there's nothing I can do about it? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they are important questions for me to ask myself. (Something of an aside --  I also think that practicing meditation is a great way to find the answers to these questions.)

Many years ago, in the late 90's, there was a wonderful yoga teacher at the YMCA whose class I used to enjoy taking. I learned a lot from her, and one thing I'll never forget she said as we were practicing yoga is this:

"Let go of what is stale, old, and no longer useful."

The beauty of yoga asanas is that when done correctly and regularly, they can help us to let go of some of the old hurts that have lodged themselves in our bodies, minds, and hearts that are no longer serving us well. And this statement is also a reminder to me that one day even this body will no longer be useful for my spirit to hold on to. Yoga and meditation are preparing me for that moment. So is this "spring-cleaning" project I'm about to undertake.

Paul Dalligan writes that "Aparigraha is the art of what is needed. Truly applied it is a great freedom for the practitioner and distills all our material and psychological possessions down to what we need." So as I undertake putting my apartment back in order, it will be a great opportunity for me to assess what do I really need to hold on to and what can I let go of now at this stage in my life. What things are no longer useful and are creating a burden not only in my physical space but also my mental spaces. It will be about balancing my needs versus my wants, and again I know it won't be easy because my mind likes to cling on to things. Maybe yours too?

When we practice generosity and give our possessions away it is not only the receiver that is blessed, but also the giver. In my case, I don't yet know what things I will be trashing and what things are still useful for someone else to use, but I do know that whatever I give or throw away, I will truly be blessed by a sense of lightness. On this point, Paul Dallaghan says: 

The essence of it is a lack of, or at least a reduction in, selfish behavior. The mental attitude is not one of "what am I going to get, what can I get or I really want that", but rather no interest to acquire and keep. There is a stronger urge to give and share, use things as needed and be willing to let them go when done.

As translated by SwamiJ, Sutra 2.39 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says:

Aparigraha brings the past and future: When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.

Upon first reading it seemed odd to me that Patanjali was tying in not being greedy with awareness of incarnations. To this point, Paul Dallaghan also writes: 

The lack of material bondage allows the spirit to reveal itself.

Aaaahhh, so now I see how it works. When I can be less burdened by physical and mental possessions, I will have more space in my mind and heart for my true essence -- the Who-Am-I-Anyway or That-Who-I-really-Am -- to reveal itself. 

While on one hand I know i have lot to let go of, if I've learned anything from the last three months it is that I now realize I am actually quite capable of surviving with very little. I've spent the last 3 months wearing pretty much the same set of clothes day-in-and-day-out, week-by-week. so I now know that I can at least practically exist with very little to cover my body with. 

I hope this little lesson in Aparigraha can be useful to you.

Happy Spring Cleaning to me ... to you ... to us!

May you ...
not be greedy, ... 
not grasp too hard, ... 
let go of what is stale, old, and no longer useful, ...
practice the Art of What is Needed, ...
... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

Aloha, with Metta,
Paul Keoni