(Non) grasping at straws

My yoga mat is the space where I synthesize and process a lot of information, and I don’t mean consciously. It’s precisely by getting OUT of my head that this happens. If you’ve ever done yoga you know exactly what I mean. Twisting and bending and moving shifts the layers, not just of my body, but of my thinking. Opens my heart. Allows truth to escape from small crevices and tumble out onto the mat in front of me. (Note – it’s not always welcome.)

This week as I practiced, a reminder: “We practice without attachment to the fruits of our efforts.” (Don’t ask me how that one came out during a particularly average practice in the attic, where lots of stink bugs crawled across the window and my cats kept getting in the way.)

Ah yes, aparigraha – one of the key principles in the yoga teachings, translated as “non grasping” or non-attachment. In our practice this means letting go of expectations- in terms of the physical form of a pose, the pace with which we can master something, anticipation of the practice achieving for us – well, anything. Because sometimes it doesn’t.

Aparigraha is the most spiritually elitist of the yoga principles, I used to think. Stop caring what happens? Let go of ambition, goals, expectations, standards? WHY?!?! I didn’t understand this at first. For competitive people (pitta!) aparigraha is like a needle in a balloon. It blows apart the way we view the world and leaves us in tattered pieces of red rubber. (And furious.)

But not caring does not equal not attaching. Of course we care. It’d be nearly inhuman not to.

Rather, we refuse to tie our self-worth, our hopes, our comfort, or point of stasis – to any expectation whatsoever. We stop grasping at things, or at the notion than only after we attain said thing will we be okay. Happy. Valuable. Worthy. Better. We un-pry our fingers from whatever it is that we are seeking – like a toddler gripping hard to a toy, lacking the consciousness that there is something better for us if only we’ll let go.

What used to be elusive, conceptually, and pretty infuriating (seriously, I’m supposed to stop caring about how far I can push/attain/achieve? i’d need several tanks of laughing gas for that…. ) makes a lot of sense to me, at least on the mat. Sometimes I flop around like a fish and am largely useless. Sometimes I can hold a handstand, but usually when I’m not trying too hard or wanting it too badly. Either are okay. Being injured for the last several weeks helped remind me of those limitations. Your physical practice is really at the mercy of a million different things. In my case, a paintbrush and a sanding block.

And here’s where I stop acting like a sage. What I can do on the mat – practice aparigraha – is not what I can do in regular life, unfortunately. If only.

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Hence the principle tumbling forward with stink bugs and my cats as the only witnesses. Back to feeling like a blown-out balloon. Who in the world can accomplish this in real life? Stop attaching?!!!!!!! Do the work, but without caring what happens on the other end of it?

Yes.

You mean, stop caring if you don’t get the reward – financial or psychological or otherwise – for hard work? And stop caring about the incompetent or idiotic people around you?? (Giant disclaimer here – I’m NOT talking about the people I work with. At all. You can read between the lines on this one.)

In the same vein, I’m supposed to let go of things that are horrifically unfair?

To take the high road when I’m so, so good at quickly dipping down to the low ones, telling someone off, and then returning to the high road just in time to teach yoga?

Yep.

See how difficult aparigraha is? I feel like drinking a few beers just thinking about it. It’s my Achilles heel in life. I have a strong sense of justice, of what’s fair, right, and deserving – for myself and others – and 95% of the time I’m convinced I know exactly what that is.

I’m being pretty honest here. It’s hard to admit this.

Aparigraha is letting go of expectations, for others, for life, for the way the world is supposed to work. It’s releasing your hopes and refusing to get bogged down by your fears. It’s remaining kind and open and understanding, when others are inconsiderate. It’s letting go of hopes that your friends or family will understand you, appreciate you, make an effort for you. It’s facing the reality head on that in this lifetime, that with certain people and situations – it may not happen. Ever.  It’s basically a giant helping of “get over it” … that you have to eat every single day for breakfast, for the rest. of. your. life.

But the amazing thing about it, about stepping down from whatever expectations you have, is the sense of freedom that comes with it. Holding expectations for what your life is supposed to look like is like building a bunch of overlapping bridges high in the air – ones that require a great deal of maintenance, attention, energy, and which never feel sturdy or secure. Aparigraha is climbing down from them.

It’s work. But like in yoga, when we stop pushing, demanding, expecting, forcing – there is suddenly more space and freedom. We realize that in letting go, there is room for more kindness. Forgiveness. For the realization that we don’t often know best – in fact, we rarely do. That sometimes, shitty situations happen in order to prevent even worse ones. That something better is coming down the way. I used to think these were delusional things that delusional people told themselves for reassurance, but that’s the kind of thinking that happens when you’re clutching firmly to the belief that you’re right, that you can manipulate your whole world into delivering what you want. Attachment, the opposite of aparigraha, is the death knell for new opportunities. And for me, my grasping was more like a stranglehold.

let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go let go

I have to tell myself this at least 6,000 times a day. Without yoga providing an actual, tangible example of it, I’d be convinced than I am literally and biologically incapable of letting go. But I am. And I am better off for it.

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