The last of the yamas is aparigraha: non-greed, non-possessiveness. Devi defines aparigraha as “acknowledging abundance”. Especially here in the US, we have an abundance of material goods, and they’re nice to have. When we take what we have for granted, then we just get caught up in getting more and more things. I know that for myself, it’s sometimes really useful to look around my closet and say, “I do not need those cute green shoes I saw in the sale flier. Look at all the super-cute shoes I already own! Hey, I haven’t worn these in a while.” And then I plan an outfit around those shoes instead and I get excited to wear them. And because I didn’t buy shoes I didn’t need, I have some extra cash to spend on a date night with my husband, or on giving to charity, or something else nice.
When I do buy more shoes, even if they’re shoes that are practical and that I will wear for a long time (for example, I recently bought plain nude-colored heels that I can wear with my brown business suit and also with a lot of my office clothes), I still feel a little guilty over the expense, and then there’s yet another box of shoes in my closet, causing clutter, which I find very stressful when it gets out of hand. There’s all this great stuff in my closet, stuff that I “loved” when I bought it, but now it’s taking up space and it’s all jammed together and I can’t find anything. Time to clean house and practice non-attachment: keep the things I love and wear often, and get rid of the things I don’t so that someone else can use them.
Both Satchidananda and Devi mention fear and anxiety if you’re not practicing aparigraha. When we hoard things away, just the sheer weight of all our stuff becomes stressful. We have all these gadgets and closets full of clothes and fancy cars and computers, but do they really add joy to our lives? Often having so many things just adds anxiety: more to do just to maintain the stuff, more to worry about (Did I leave the GPS in the car? Where did I put my iPod?). And there are always more things out there to acquire. On the other hand, if we strive to live more simply, to be not attached to our stuff, then when the stuff goes away we don’t get upset. Devi writes:
Life’s ebb and flow brings things into our life and then out again. Even the slightest hesitation of holding impedes the flow. Our belief system has the ability to hinder or expand this flow of abundance. If you believe that material and spiritual blessings are infinite, a cornucopia awaits you. (202)
The danger doesn’t lie in having possessions, but in our attachment to them. We need to remember that we already have everything we need right now.
I lost some weight recently, and it’s been on my mind that I need to get some new clothes that fit me better. To an extent, this is a good thing: I only have two pairs of business pants that I can wear, and they’re both black, so I could use some khakis. But then I get caught up in it, and start worrying about when I can go to the mall, and do I have this or that coupon and when does the coupon expire, and it’s just stressful. Hey: I’ve got some pants. I have two pairs! And I can wear jeans to work, too. I already went through the “I lost weight and oh noes none of my jeans fit” marathon shopping trip last fall so I have two excellent pairs of jeans. And soon it will be warm enough outside to wear skirts all the time! I don’t have to stress about finding a new pair of khakis. At some point, I’ll be out with a friend and we’ll go past a store and oh hey, let’s try some stuff on, and the khakis will come to me.
I also get possessive about books and DVDs. I’ve gotten better about books – borrowing from friends or going to the library – but it’s been a struggle the whole time because I REALLY like books. I still feel pangs when I think about a certain book or series of books that I loved but oh, I can’t go over to my shelf and pick it up right now because I got it from the library. Boohoo. I can go back to the library and get it again if I really want to reread it or reference it. I like to own my favorite movies, too, but now we have Netflix – we can get DVDs or do the streaming thing – and we also have On Demand, and so I can watch my favorite movies pretty much anytime even without owning a physical object. This is taking some getting used to. I still kind of want the Back to the Future trilogy on DVD, and I have a strong aversion to getting rid of my Indiana Jones set. But what Indiana Jones and Marty McFly gave me as a kid – that sense of adventure, that curiosity and excitement – is always going to be mine, whether or not there’s a little box gathering dust on a shelf to remind me about it.