The Best Things in Life Come in Empty Packages.
Congratulations for making it through Christmas kick-off, aka Black Friday.
This time of year is particularly tempting for us Americans. Left unchecked, we fall prey to wanting—no, needing—so much: the perfect gift, for yourself or a loved one (the latter, by the way, is no holier than the former); the harmonious, Walton-style family gathering; homemade cookies by the tin-full; the perfect snow; ma in her kerchief, you in your cap. In other words, traditions intact and expectations set higher than the star atop the tree (the one you spent an hour messing with so it would stand perfectly straight). Good luck being jolly.
Aparigraha, translated as “non-grasping” or “non-possessiveness,” is like those other pesky yamas, broad in context and multi-layered. We reach and grasp for the perfect handstand, a hundred-dollar hoodie, success, acceptance, comfort, even pain. Ideals, standards and expectations of any kind, grasping of any kind, brings suffering, or dukha. The word even sounds unpleasant, no?
To my Western brain, aparigraha is rooted in impermanence. I live in Ohio, where we say, “Don’t like the weather? Stick around, it’ll change.” Most often, of course, we grasp at pleasure. At least we Ohioans know to appreciate the sun without expecting it to stick around. “Like the weather? Don’t get used to it…”
It’s hard to not do your favorite pose every day, in the same way, for the same blissful sensation or feeling of victory. But there will, most likely, come a day when you can’t anymore. And then what? Someday (and this is almost guaranteed) you will not be able to fulfill your child’s every Christmas wish. And then what?
This is not to say that wanting is bad. Desire is different, and perhaps slipperier, than willful grasping. Want will always be there, bouncing around in the “monkey-mind,” maybe even in the heart. It’s our job as grownups and spiritual warriors to step back, chill out and accept perceived imperfection—in the pose, in our families, in ourselves. Because if you step back far enough, you’ll stumble right into the moment … the “now” that neither judges nor expects, the you that’s not afraid of disappointment, failure, frustration or boredom.
So aparigraha doesn’t mean disconnection, or non-involvement, or non-effort. To my humble understanding, it means softening and opening to what’s real and what’s next, whether you like it or not.
You’ll never become the perfect husband, mother, teacher, yogi. You are perfect now, if you’ll get out of the way, put down the sparkly ribbon, drop the expectations and be still for a moment or so.
Compassion, toward self and others, requires room to breathe. Presence, if you’ll pardon the bad pun, is your greatest gift to the world. This holiday season, please give generously.
Kathi Kizirnis is a vinyasa yoga teacher and co-owner of Practice Yoga in Dayton, Ohio. She is also a recovering journalist, wife, and mother of two (not necessarily in that order), and dedicates this post to songwriting genius Paddy McAloon, who wrote the Prefab Sprout classic ‘Appetite.’