“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” – C. JoyBell C.
When I was a freshman in college, my mother began a tradition that has lasted until now. Each Thanksgiving weekend she gives me a “Pre-Christmas” bag of gifts. Annually, the gifts in these bags vary. This year, I got holiday socks, candy canes, a picture frame and two festive dish towels. What never changes is that the “Pre-Christmas” bag always includes an ornament or two for our tree.
Remember, this tradition has been going on for more than thirty years, so the most basic of math calculations reveals that I have quite a staggering collection of Christmas ornaments! In fact, last year, trimming the tree became a little stressful as there were simply not enough branches to hold all of the ornaments. Because I think holiday traditions ought to make you happy rather than stressed, this year I decided to take action.
As my husband put up the tree and strung it with lights, I unwrapped each and every one of my Christmas ornaments. As always, each made me smile as I remembered what my life was like when I received it – what year I was in college, where I lived, what (and who) I loved. Many were given to me by people other than my mother – yoga students, work colleagues, dear friends I still talk to nearly every day and friends with whom I’ve long ago lost touch.
Though I was smiling as I looked lovingly at each ornament, I was also making a tough decision. My goal was to separate out at least a third of the ornaments to re-wrap and return to the bin rather than hang on the tree. Not only would this make it more fun to decorate the tree, but I suspected we’d enjoy looking at the ornaments more if there were fewer on the tree. After all, last year our tree looked pretty over-crowded and a little chaotic.
After my daughter hung up the last ornament, I stepped back to assess the results. And I smiled again. The tree looks lovely (see the picture above). I needn’t have worried that it would look sparsely decorated. In fact, my collection of treasures still looks very full. Best yet, when I walk past and pause, I can actually focus on one or two at a time – the one with the light-up fireplace that we received the first Christmas we were married, the pottery yoga pose from a beloved student, the glittery pink butterfly I couldn’t live without when I was eight years old.
In short, because I culled through my collection, this tree might be my most favorite of all time because it gives me just as much pleasure to look at as it did to decorate it.
Yoga philosophy teaches a concept called aparigraha in Sanskrit, which is often translated into English as non-possessiveness. When we practice non-possessiveness, we part ways with the old and often discover that we’ve made room for the new. It is particularly interesting that even when what we’re parting ways with is “stuff,” the “new” that we find pouring into our lives is almost never new “stuff.”
By deciding not to hang up a third of my Christmas ornaments, the “new” that came my way was a more special, richer enjoyment of the tree. I’ve had similar results when I clean out my closet. One of the best gifts of a project like that is that I can see – and therefore will wear and enjoy – the clothes I kept more often than when they were hidden in a crammed full closet.
Non-possessiveness is an idea that we can practice as we move and breathe on our yoga mats. We do so by choosing to stay in a state of mind often referred to as Beginner’s Mind. We mindfully set aside (part ways with) old ideas and assumptions of what we can and cannot do on our mats. In essence, we try to approach each posture as if we’ve never done it before. Even if we’ve never managed a headstand or have always been able to touch our toes in a forward fold, we let go of these as certainties. Instead, we choose to stay curious as we approach each posture, thinking “Will I be able to do this today?”
With the fresh, curious eyes of aparigraha, we see changes in our practice every day. Sometimes the changes are happy (“I did it!”) and sometimes they are frustrating (“Why didn’t that work today?”). Both kinds of changes are gifts simply because they are changes. Changes on our mats mean that we’re changing. The fact that we’re changing is a good sign that we’re alive and well. Which is something to celebrate!
Take a moment today to look around your life. What are you holding onto? What are you grasping so tightly that there is no room in your hands or heart to receive the new? Take a breath and ask yourself if you can let go. And, if by letting go, you might be making space for new experiences or understandings or ideas to flow your way.