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One of the ten planks in yoga’s moral or philosophical foundation is aparigraha, which is typically translated as non-possessiveness. While there is great value to be found in holding our possessions more lightly or even letting them go entirely, there is another way to practice aparigraha that is even more powerful.
As is typical of yoga, we first bump into this practice on our mat. We learn very quickly as our practice develops that there is no predicting how things are going to go as we move and breathe. Some days we’re loose. Some days we’re tight. Some days we progress. Some days we backslide.
Letting go of our attachment to results
There comes a day for every yogi when it dawns on us that it doesn’t much matter what we do or how we feel on our mat. The only thing that matters is that we’ve shown up and practiced. We have released our attachment to achievement and progress and physical feats in general. This is profoundly freeing.
As we continue to practice, it’s not such a huge leap to take this new perspective off our mats and into our lives. In fact, this shift often happens without our awareness. We find ourselves doing things – even things that are quite significant – with no attachment to results.
Giving without expectation of return
We give because we can. We act because we are able. We share because we are blessed with abundance. We say “yes” to someone in need because it’s possible for us, in that very moment, to do so.
Here’s the key: we do so without expecting anything in return.
Another way to look at this is that we are showing up for the world around us in the same way that we show up for ourselves when we practice – with open hearts, open minds, generosity, fully engaged and willing to do what we do without expectation of its result.
The spiritual possibility of your response to COVID-19
As I write this, my little corner of the world (like most of the world around us) is navigating the outbreak of COVID-19 or the corona virus. The governor of my state, Pennsylvania, recently requested that all non-essential businesses in my county and several others, close for two weeks. This announcement underscored the importance of “social distancing” by each of us.
As I thought about the next two weeks and how hard it was going to be to stay apart from the people I care about and the work I love, it dawned on me that I could approach social distancing as a new form of aparigraha or selfless giving.
The choice to practice social distancing is a lovely example of pure generosity. We are making a series of decisions, many that we may not like very much, to take care of people we do not or may not ever know.
Each of us is choosing to make sacrifices for the greater good. For me, I am pausing the work I love to do. I am not seeing friends who light up my life. I am not seeing my parents or my two children who live in the city. Trivial, but still a blow, I am choosing not to go to my local pub to enjoy a craft beer.
I am doing so not because I am afraid of contracting the virus. I am doing so because of the person who is in a high-risk demographic who may stay healthy because I didn’t touch as many door handles or parking meters or elevator buttons or whatever.
You may never know the effects of your generous choices – and that’s part of the practice
Just as I never know what I’ll be able to “accomplish” in my daily yoga practice, I don’t know (nor ever will) the fruits (if any) of my choice to practice social distancing. Just as on my mat, I’m simply showing up and practicing social distancing with hope and good intentions.
Perhaps because of my practice, I will be able to do so without attachment to the results of my limiting and uncomfortable choices. On second thought, as I watch the world around me respond to this crisis, I think it’s more likely because the world is full of good, generous, loving people and I’d like to join them.
All this time
The Sun never says
To the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that.
It lights the
– 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz
If you, like me, are practicing social distancing and are missing your regular yoga classes, in addition to the free 20-minute yoga video on my website, I have cut the price of my full primary series class to only $5 for the next month. If you, also like me, have some extra time on your hands as life has slowed down, and would like to explore yoga more deeply, I have also dropped by 50% the price of my online Yoga Philosophy course. Enjoy!