Lately I have this desire to get rid of things—it’s not a familiar sensation.
I’ve always admired the adventurous types that can pack their lives into compact suitcases; the people who are ready to get up and go at a moment’s notice, who aren’t afraid to leave where they’ve been in order to go where they haven’t. I admire them, but I’m not one of them.
I like to root into the places that I live. I take comfort in seeing familiar faces, and in walking familiar paths. I collect books for my shelves, spices for my kitchen, and artwork for my walls. I hold onto letters from old friends, gifts from relatives, and even the candles from my twenty-first birthday. I crave adventure, but I often get cold feet. I love hellos, but I dread goodbyes.
But in the past few weeks, three things that I’ve read have settled into their own homes in my mind: and they don’t seem ready to pack-up anytime soon. These things have caused me to confront my desire to collect, to hold close, and to stay, without wanting to toss away, to release, or to go.
1. "Let live what can live, and let die what must die."
This phrase is from Clarissa Pinkola Estés Women Who Run With the Wolves, a book that some of us at The Perri Institute have been reading over the past couple of months. In it, Estés talks about the “Life/Death/Life” cycle, which is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth—or beginnings, endings, and beginnings again. As I continue to read this book, I am fascinated by the manner in which the author talks about death—not necessarily the death of humans, but the death of certain aspects of our lives. It isn’t something scary, or sad, or even all that alarming. It’s actually something rather freeing, and more importantly, it’s necessary; if we don’t allow what must die to die, then there is no space for the living to live. Particularly thought-provoking to me was her application of this cycle in relation to love:
“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything...To love means to embrace and at the same time withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings—all in the same relationship.”
Whether it’s love for our family, our partner, our friends, or our art, each one of these relationships must be able to withstand both addition and subtraction. We must be able to recognize what these relationships need more of, and what they need less of. We can’t be afraid that letting go of what we no longer need will deplete us—instead, removing unneeded luggage will actually revive us.
2. “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”
Recently I read this post on Elephant Journal, in which the author, Tamara Star, states that the way we keep our homes translates directly into how we run our lives. “Let’s pretend I’m in your home right now,” she writes. “Take a moment and open your closet. Are there a bunch of clothes in there you never wear, but continue to hold on to, just in case?” Guilty. “When we hold on to things just in case…We’re not trusting that what we need, or who we’ll want, will be there if we let go of what’s no longer working.”
This issue of trust is huge. There’s something scary about getting rid of things, about saying goodbye—it’s frightening to think we may never see them again. What if there comes a time when we need them? What if there comes a time when old ideas, old desires, old relationships, and old goals become relevant again? But this author is right to question the validity of these fears. If we’re afraid to let things go because we’re afraid they won’t be there in the future, then that fear is masking the fact that we don’t trust we’ll be able to handle circumstances that may arise. We’re not trusting ourselves. We’re not trusting that we’ll be able to gather our materials once again, should the time come in which we need to do so. By not trusting ourselves and the wisdom and strength that we’ve developed simply by living, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.
3. “Well something’s lost but something’s gained in living everyday.”
When in doubt: Joni Mitchell. This quote from “Both Sides Now” perfectly encompasses the inflow and outflow of our daily lives, and it also taps into how we address this cycle. We can focus on loss, on death, and on what we have to give up, or we can focus on gain, on life, and on what we now have room to receive. Mitchell reminds us that the Life/Death/Life cycle Estés speaks of is occurring every single day. We can’t afford to mourn every loss. We also can’t afford to be afraid of letting go. Being human is about experiencing hellos and goodbyes on a daily basis.
So what does all of this have to do with yoga?
Aparigraha, translated often as non-hoarding, is one of the five yamas—or disciplines for conscious living—in yoga philosophy. In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar writes the following:
"By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.”
Training ourselves not to feel any loss might seem a little ambitious, but the overall point still stands. Estés, Mitchell, Star and Iyengar are all saying the same thing; as yogis, part of our work is to recognize that we must be willing to let go of what no longer serves us. We must trust that what we need will be there for us when we need it—often what we “need” is something we already have, tools that we’ve already developed in our practice that aid us in whatever is to come. This reminds me of my home yoga practice, in which handstand plays a starring role. I’ve been so stuck on the idea that my heels must touch the wall in order to achieve the asana, that I haven’t taken the time to step back and realize that this idea is no longer serving me. I’m no longer thinking about how I need to organize my body in a strong, supportive way that will allow me to stand on my arms—instead I’ve become obsessed with the end goal, a goal that won’t be realized by practicing in a way that is no longer useful to me. Now I’m focusing more on finding maximum suspension: advice that TaraMarie had given me a while back, that I feel it is time to return to now. I’m challenging myself to see how long I can float my legs off of the ground, before gravity pulls them back down. Right now, the flotation duration is pretty minimal. But the idea is new, it is exciting, and it makes me feel more like an adventurer, and less like someone who is stuck in a ditch. I’m letting new practices live: new practices that never would have arrived--or rather returned--if I hadn’t been willing to let the old ones slip away.
When we’re off the mat, applications of aparigraha are also plentiful. Whether it’s old clothes in our closets, excessively expired food in our refrigerators, or understandings of our friends and families that are no longer relevant, we must be willing to recognize what we’re hoarding, recognize what no longer serves us, and be able to let it go. Only then can we clear space for what's new, and what's prevalent.
Lately I have this desire to get rid of things—I’m hoping it becomes a more familiar sensation.