This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student shares a personal journey into the yama (restraint) of aparigraha. By weaving together knowledge of various spiritual and daily life practices, the experience continues to ripen and offer the possibility of healing and personal enrichment.
Tag Archive for: Aparigraha
A Rabbi was worried about having enough food to help the poor during an extremely desperate time, with many families needing help. He made visits to many different people who lived in their village, asking people to donate money to help others.
The Rabbi decided to visit the most stingy, miserly member of their village. This penny-pinching man, known as the most tightfisted mean spirited man, was the richest man in the whole countryside. The Rabbi’s students thought the Rabbi was crazy to waste his time, but they decided to go with the Rabbi on his visit.
The stingy man, dressed in his best clothes, cracked the door open to the Rabbi and his students. The Rabbi asked to come in out of the cold to speak to him. He grudgingly opened the door and allowed them to come into the entryway. The Rabbi explained that there were many families that were close to starving this winter and could he spare any extra money to help these families?
The man sighed. “I don’t have anything to give. Is there was any one else you could ask?”
“No, I have already asked all that I can ask.” replied the Rabbi. “We would appreciate anything you can spare.”
This miserly man sighed again and left the room. He returned with his fist closed tightly over one small coin, equivalent to one cent. The Rabbi put out his hand and the man dropped the coin onto his outstretched hand.
“Thank you so much!” the Rabbi spoke with happiness, “We so appreciate your giving. May you lead a blessed life for your generosity.”
As soon as they walked outside, the students expressed their outrage. “Why did you give him a blessing for being so stingy?! He could have easily donated enough money so that no one would go without!”
“Yes, indeed it would appear that way.” The Rabbi replied, “…but he gave what he could give.”
“But he hoards his money! He believes that he is poor.” they argued.
Several days passed and the Rabbi went again to this stingy man’s house. Again he asked for money. This time the man sighed and gave him a fist full of small coins. Once again, the Rabbi thanked him and gave him his blessing. Each visit this tightfisted man gave a little more. In the fourth visit, the Rabbi was invited in and offered some tea. They talked for quite some time until the Rabbi needed to leave. The man asked him to wait. This time he brought a whole chest of coins to donate. He gave the Rabbi a big hug and thanked him for allowing him to give what he could give.
Just like the Rabbi acted towards this stingy man, Aparigraha takes patience, persistence, presence and lovingkindness to alter the habits of grasping, hoarding, and holding onto beliefs that no longer serve me. This Yama is an ethical precept of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. This restraint represents nongrasping, non-hoarding, reducing the amount of input or stimulation, and asks the question of what will you let go of?
As I sit down to write this paper, I find myself lucky to have another opportunity to practice letting go – not grasping onto fear. Our daughter, Sarah, skyped from China to tell us she is having another new round of symptoms.
Fear seems to be walking with me in many areas of my life right now. So I choose to let go of ~ to not grasp or cling to ~ fear as my first emotional reaction to situations: Our daughter’s continued ups and downs of her illness/condition, her difficult challenges being in China this school year, financial concerns covering her medical bills, our son is buying a house with a girlfriend and it is a “shaky” relationship, my mother’s decline in health – there are so many areas of my life that I have the opportunity to practice non-grasping of fear.
My journal of drawings, quotes from various readings, meaningful conversations, and journal entries direct and capture my observations. Immediately I find out how often I do react with fear. This looms greater than I realized – a pattern so subtle and yet so loud at other times.
“…obstacle to deep yoga practice ..relationship at the core of practice….love is allowed to flow freely… the foundation right at the center of our lives….overcome with friendliness and compassion….faith and trust… you won’t be discouraged or paralyzed.” (Freeman)
So I bring my attention to my relationship with myself and with the Divine. I use the yoga practice of deepening my questions and holding these questions with great care and lovingkindness. Perhaps this is a special gift from G’nesh? What teaching might be in this obstacle of fear?
On Day two of the experiment I am leading a Circle of Trust at the Mennonite Church. I go into the sanctuary to listen to the last part of the service. We sing a song that has these words:
“…have no fear – hold love and trusting kindness….”
That same night I am reading in Rabbi David Cooper’s book, God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the practice of mystical Judaism, and find the following words: “All we need to do is learn to let go of our fear, for fear maintains the barriers of separation.” (p. 68) “…the presence of Divine is revealed in the fullness of each moment.” “…waiting is self-defeating. We have whatever we need.” (p. 183)
What do I already have? Each day seems to bring such a sharper awareness of the fear – as if it is always walking right next to me. I begin to have a conversation with this fear – what is it that keeps me so tightly woven to this place of ~
Fright, alarm, trepidation, dismay, distress, anxiety, worry, uneasiness, apprehension, f foreboding, jitteriness, panic, scared, worry, dread, to be terrified of….?
I speak to trusted friends and my husband about this journey. Jane Treat, a dear friend from our shared storytelling world and a vision quest leader shares “ Sometimes we need to end something then wait before we begin something new.” So what will begin when I end my fear?
I am living my questions now – stretching myself into the fear inside and moving with it. This is a healthy place to be – to hold my fear with tenderness and care. Yet this is a challenge when my judgment comes up – harsh judgment – when I hear Helena’s story about healing through her trip to Cambodia. How can I think I have lived fear in comparison to her story?!! After one day of this, I move back to holding my own questions – my journey is to be the best Susan I can be – and I am not to answer the questions that others hold. I take Helena’s courage and inspiration to work with my own fear.
Alan Morinis writes about the Mussar (the Jewish tradition that connects our inner traits with how we lead our lives) in his book, Every Day, Holy Day. I read about “ametz lev = strong heart it is what gives rise to courage, what is called for without succumbing to anxiety or fear about its own safety or benefit.”
By now the fear is screaming at me – it seems so pervasive in my life. Our daughter is calling about another major episode and a trip to the hospital again, the VISA bill comes for an extra $700 in medical bills and I can barely keep up all of my work – just trying to pay our bills.
This assessment and study has turned into a test of sorts. Fear seems to be popping up everywhere – giving me lots of opportunity to befriend it. As Passover approaches, I am reminded that just like the metaphorical story of the Jewish people crossing the Red Sea, I am passing through narrows – mitzrayim.
This reminds me of two important Jewish concepts –
mochin d’kutnut: narrow mind, separate from the world, isolated, alienated and scarcity
mochin d’gatlut: spacious mind, lovingkindness, abundance, engage life from place of interdependence and compassion, sees self as connected to G-d and as whole.
This is a helpful awareness for me to realize that I am looking at my fear through the eyes of mochin d-kutnut – narrow mind. I begin to shift now, opening my eyes – my heart, mind, body and spirit – to mochin d’gatlut – spacious mind. An important connection is back to my earlier reading of T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga. Here are a few quotes that say the same thing to me:
Yoga means to come together, to unite or to “tie the strands of the mind together.” Yoga also means acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are engaged…when we are attentive to our actions we are not prisoners to our habits…another classic definition of yoga is “to be one with the divine”….when we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”
Many other experiences continue to unfold, helping me increase my awareness of how my fear is part of my whole – an expression of the Divine or Skechinah. In my Kabbalah class, I find in an exercise that trust and fear is a theme that arises for me yet again. I transition to search for the hidden spark of holy light in my being – what will help me with this?
One aspect of my fear is that it lives in either the past or the future. So I return to living in this moment – finding the Divine in this specific moment in time. This is a relief. Somehow I am now ready to move from observation and study to develop a practice.
My search on how to embody this process opens to several practices. First, I find that I hold the fear deep in my belly, a tightening and tension. So I decide that a breathing practice might be beneficial to loosen up the fear and to move with the fear.
Leonard Felder, in Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered and Available for Life, suggests the practice of listening to that still, small voice inside of me that asks the question “Where are you?” It is a way of becoming present when I feel the fear arising. I answer “Hineini. Here I am.” This helps me not run away from the fear into problem solving, swaying my ego to look like a “good parent”, be overly attached to our adult children or cling to belief that I should come up with a good answer that might fix, change or save my children.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, in The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, visualizes the name of G-d by moving the Hebrew letters vertically to represent a human body:
yod is head & face
hey is shoulders and arms
vav is torso
hey is pelvis and legs
I incorporate this practice he suggests – see yourself as the Name of G-d, the Image of G-d. It is not enough to know you are God, to see the Name of God written with your body. You must also see the Name in everyone and everything else.
I use this image to honor my own wholeness – fear or no fear. This breathing practice helps calm and focus me, to “tie the strands of the mind together” (Desikachar).
My breathing practice helps me dissolve any feeling of separation from The Divine, especially when I feel fear. First I image that when I breath in – G-d Is breathing out and when I breath out – G-d breathes in. This sacred partnership of breathing with G-d brings me a deep sense of peace and connection. I am present to this moment, not moving to past or the future – just here.
This practice begins to calm me and allow me to stay with the fear – to hear, touch, smell, taste many aspects of the fear. Other emotions begin to emerge.
By listening, I have found that under my fear is great sadness. Sadness that: I can’t save my daughter from her illness/condition, sadness about some things I would have done differently in raising my children, sadness about my daughter’s poor health and the unknown, sadness that my mother is dying, layers of sadness. This is a surprise turn of events, as I have not even worked with my needs connected to these feelings.
And so my experiment evolves. Holding my fear with lovingkindness, I find that perhaps it was easier to react in fear than to hold this great bouquet of sadness. Perhaps I can now begin to let go of the beliefs that are tied to my fear and how I should or should not react. Ah – now I found myself with new questions.
Jay Michaelson, in God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice, builds upon the visualization of the Name of the Divine as our Body by the following breathing practice:
yod ~ empty all air – empty lungs – hold
hey ~ breath in – fill with air – inhale
vav ~ body full of air + extended – hold
hey ~ breath – exhale
I incorporate this breathing practice into my daily practice, especially when the sadness feels so great. Somehow it changes, softens, is part of my wholeness. The journey continues.
As T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga states:
We begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.
As in the initial story of the Rabbi and the stingy man reveal, one can let go of hoarding and change those beliefs that no longer serve you. I hope to deepen my own patience, persistence, presence and lovingkindness towards myself in this journey of non-grasping and making it simpler.
I was given a mantra from the Ganapati Upanishad, “Om Gam Ganapataye Namah.” This mantra, a petition for the removal of obstacles blocking our path to success, is also invoked such that we can merge ourselves within Ganesha’s supreme knowledge and peace. It was recommended that I use a mala to chant this mantra 108 times. At first, I did not understand the significance of this auspicious number—I thought, “Why 108? This seems awfully long and drawn out!” But after research, the significance of 108 repetitions helped to solidify my practice and draw forth meaning. Amongst other reasons, there are said to be 108 earthly desires within mortals, 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance, 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra, 108 feelings (with 36 related to the past, 36 to the present, and 36 to the future), 108 stages to the soul, and perhaps 108 paths to God. Grounding myself in a consciousness that will (hopefully) lead to the elimination of duality began to help me understand my lack of true knowledge better. My attachment to my body—and not even just my physical appearance, but my body as a complete whole—proved to be a manifestation of my spiritual ignorance. As Rolf Gates writes in his book, Meditations from the Mat, “The fear that drives us away from ourselves is rooted in our spiritual ignorance—we do not know who we really are. If we did, we would realize that there is nothing to fear. We would know that we are everything we have always hoped we would be but never believed we could be.” My sadhana practice proved to be a great starting point for understanding my connection to the divine; through this connection, I began to appreciate and respect my body rather than view it as inadequate.
 Gates, p. 148.
Similarly, I was conscious throughout this experiment to remove any competition from my asana practice. Rather than focusing on how amazing virabhadrasana II might make my triceps look if I held it for x number of minutes, I turned my attention to my breath and to the trueness of the postures. Additionally, instead of struggling to tuck my foot into the root of my upper thigh in vrksasana pose, I honored my body by keeping my foot against my shin. For some readers, these modifications would suggest that I never truly grasped the concept of yoga before. After this experiment, I do not think I would rebuke this observation. The competitive culture of corporate gyms taught me that yoga was what the beautiful people did to stay thin, and not the importance of the spiritually where this practice finds its roots.
 I have come to realize that I am my own biggest competitor… and yoga is NOT a competitive sport! I idealize the gross manifestation of postures without honoring where I am, in each present moment.
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