Tis’ The Season! To Practice Aparigraha

This holiday season get creative and mildful with your gift giving

BY JORDAN COHEN

Black Friday has come and gone.  You know the routine; the “tradition” where hordes of shoppers descend en-masse upon the big box chain stores across the country.  Lines form, doors open and crowds lustily surge forward eager for discounts.  The inevitable melee unfolds.

As I reflect upon these images, and looked toward the coming holidays, I am reminded of the yoga concept of aparigraha, one of the yogic guidelines for a healthy and ethical life.

Aparigraha is one of the Yamas.  Yama in Sanskrit literally means restraint and includes nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and finally, nonposessiveness or aparigraha.   The idea of aparigraha is that by not clinging to or being attached to material things we are free to enjoy a life that is expansive and truly experiential.

What we attempt to possess in the end possesses us.  This is not to mean that one must renounce all worldly pleasures, move into the forest and subsist off the generosity of others.  Not at all. One can be fully immersed in this modern world and yet, be fully and completely aware of the fact that the fewer attachments we have the more we become engaged in the enjoyment of life.

The point is as Deborah Adele states:

“Aparigraha invites us to let go and to pack lightly for our journey through life, all the while caring deeply and enjoying fully.”

The concept of aparigraha is closely related to the idea of the Honorable Harvest practiced by indigenous peoples of North America.  To these native people the idea of ownership, especially of the land, plants, animals and other natural resources, was unknown.  Rather than ownership, the relationship is one of reciprocity, taking and giving equally; one gift exchanged for another.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the Honorable Harvest:

“...to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift and to reciprocate the gift.”

Below are several recommendations to incorporate aparigraha into your holiday season:

Ask Questions

Before purchasing gifts ask yourself these questions.  This will allow you to slow down and be conscious about your giving.  Ask yourself who am I buying this for? Is the gift for truly for the recipient or is there something about the gift, whether its brand or price, that you are using to project something about yourself.  Another important question is whether the gift will add value to the recipient’s life?  In other words, is the gift something that serves an actual purpose and will it bring lasting joy?  Finally, ask yourself can I afford this gift?  Credit cards make unconscious spending easy and it’s very easy to overspend on gifts only to regret the choices when the bill arrives.

Don’t Buy; Create

Gift giving is not about the thing, but the relationship between the giver and the recipient. Perhaps the way to add value and resiliency to your relationships is to create gifts, rather than to buy them. Buying is easy and is made easier by the day.  Taking the time to create something special is truly a gift.

Gift Experiences

Rather than buying a thing, consider giving experiences to friends and family.  Yes, that new iPhone is shiny and new but it will be obsolete in no time. Gifting things such as travel, unique dining, theater tickets or even surfing lessons will create memories that will last far longer than the latest gadget or the old fall back, socks!

Give the Gift of Time

Yoga is about connection and the “holiday season” is a time to celebrate connections.  Spend your time celebrating the connections you have made, with both family and friends.   It is also a time to re-connect and perhaps heal relationships that have suffered some damage along the way.

Reflect and Move Forward

In between the parties, gatherings and gifting make time to reflect upon the past year; your triumphs as well as your challenges.   This is not a time to beat yourself up!  It is a time to clear inner space to prepare for the new year.  The seasons, the earth, and really everything moves in cycles.  In the winter nature appears asleep and dormant. But all around us our world is simply moving inward, taking stock if you will, and conserving energy in preparation for spring exuberance.  We are all part of these same cycles.  Use this time to move inward as well.  This may require saying no to people.  But if you use this time wisely you will enter the new year traveling a little bit lighter!

4 thoughts on “Tis’ The Season! To Practice Aparigraha”

  1. This is really a lovely reminder and although I admit I’m reading it after the holidays I am proud to say that while I was blessed to be with my family this December I asked them if they would let me practice my new Yoga Teacher skills on them. We did a very peaceful restorative Yin sequence, my heart was very full because of how they all showed up for me and participated so earnestly (giggling and silliness included). I felt proud to serve and give the gift of relaxation to a group of people I deeply love, who clearly benefited from a reminder to slow down. Reports of deep sleep followed and a new family tradition was born. I don’t think I’ve ever given such a precious gift and it took my understanding of aparigraha and letting go of my traditional understanding of gift giving to accomplish it. I credit this inspiration directly to Yoga and the time I have spent at Pura Vida especially during my Yoga Teacher Training.

  2. Thank you Jordan for this reminder. While the holiday season has come and gone, the concept of aparigraha should be practiced all year round. One of my favorite lines in the Yamas and the Niyamas (there are so many favorite lines) is when Deborah Adele says that ‘what we try to possess, possesses us’. Going back to the questions you invite us to ask ourselves when we purchase items; this is one way we can ensure that what we buy for others and also for ourselves is nourishing, adds value and brings joy. I also agree with your gift suggestions. Since i’ve moved away from my family it’s amazing how presence and time has become a priceless gift for me and for them.

  3. I really resonated with the Aparigraha section in the book “The Yamas and Niyamas”, and definitely feel Jordan’s explanation has made it more clear how important this Yama is to practice in our day to day life. In a culture where we never have enough and constantly live in excess (money, food, things, etc), it is so crucial to realize what is actually essential to our well-being and life force. I definitely have a lot of room to grow in this area, and I have made a point to consider actions through the lens of Aparigraha. Am I reaching for a snack because my body actually needs nourishment or because everyone in my office is going for one? Am I acquiring new items because I actually need them for my daily well being or just because other people have it?

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