´The more you fly from nature, the more she follows you, and if you do not care for her at all, she becomes your servant. ´ Patanjali Sutras 2:27
I am of the opinion that every guideline, practice and ethical rule was carefully selected by Patanjali and placed within the Yoga sutras to help us increase our perception of freedom so that we experience greater happiness and joy in BEING. One of these ethical practices outlined in the Yoga Sutras to help us achieve that is Aparigraha- non attachment.
With all the chaos, loss and uncertainty surrounding COVID 19, now more than ever, the ancient practice of Aparigraha (Non- Attachment) is fundamental to our psychological and physical wellbeing.
Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह) : Non – Attachment
´That effort, which comes to those who have given up their thirst after objects
either seen or heard, and which wills to control the objects, is non-attachment.´ Patanjali Sutras 1:15.
Aparigraha or non–attachment is the last Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Aparigraha is the yogic injunction for non-possessing, non-grasping. It is the negation of Parigraha (परिग्रह): taking possession or holding onto things. It is giving up the notion of mine-ness in everything and for that reason is also translated as generosity.
Perception of Freedom
As expounded upon in previous blog posts the perception that we are in control of our own life experience is fundamental to our levels of life satisfaction and joy. Humans beings who feel trapped and unable to make their own decisions, just like any other animal in captivity, suffer not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.
´Attachment is that which dwells on pleasure. Aversion is that which dwells on pain ´ Patanjali Sutras 2:7-8
Loss aversion is a psychological term used to describe the perspectives and actions we take to avoid the loss of some object, ideal and/or identity. According to Kahneman and Tversky (1979) if we lose something that we define as OURS than we suffer twice as much than if we lose the something that we never claimed ownership to. This is not limited to physical objects. Many of us lay claim various identities or ideals and get very upset if they are threatened or questioned. What is more, the more we have suffered or invested in achieving said object, identity or idea, the more averse we are to letting it go.
Freedom from Loss
The psychological result of grasping onto objects, relationships or identities results in suffering as our aversion to loss to any or all of the above, especially if we have invested a lot of time or money, results in a decrease in the perception of freedom. Fear of loss controls us rather than freedom of choice. Patanjali observed that practicing the art of Aparigraha provides a way out from such a circumstance. By freeing ourselves from the fear of loss we gain greater control over our life experience. With nothing to lose, the world becomes a playground of limitless possibilities.
¨The child is instinctively afraid because the past experience of pain is there…these feelings (fear, anger, hate etc.) have to be controlled in the germ, the root, in their fine forms even before we have become conscious that they are acting on us. Then alone will we be able to burn out their very seed…the ability to detach ourselves from our thoughts is the only way to freedom (2:9/1:15)
According to researchers Dr. Von der Kolk and Dr. Peter Levine trauma results from the incapacity to be able to respond to a threat by either fighting or running away . The nervous system response to the incapacity to fight off or escape a possible threat is to freeze. This results in a state of paralysis and disassociation from the body. Trauma is often viewed as something physical that is experienced but it can also result from abandonment, group exclusion and loss. This is because, from an evolutionary perspective, in the wild, without the protection of the group, a lone human is very vulnerable to attack and death.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) results when the perception of control and safety is taken away and then revisited again and again through memories, nightmares and bodily tension.
Trauma and Aparigraha
Yoga has been proven to be very effective in releasing and healing trauma. It is though the practice of Aparigraha we can learn how to nullify the very chemically stress responses of trauma and stress before they even begin. Instead of getting defensive, anxious or shutting down emotionally when we are faced with the possibility of losing something or someone, we are able to short circuit the usual biological defense response by remember it was never ours to begin with. This allows us to respond with compassion and logic rather than with fear and ego. In the middle of a storm, Aparigraha allows us to remain still in contemplative observation.
Aparigraha, Karma and relationships
´Work incessantly but give up all attachment to work. Do not identify yourself with anything. Hold your mind free. Misery comes through attachment, not through work´(1.2.7 Karma)
The law of Karma (work/action) dictates that the energy, intention and action you put out moves in an eternal loop to come right back to the you. The erroneous interpretation of this work/action loop is that the subject benefiting or receiving said action is somehow obligated to return the favor to the supplier. This erróneas interpretation, especially in relationships, is the root cause for all kinds of suffering and unhappiness.
The attachment (Aparigraha) to various codes of behavior and expectations makes our happiness and satisfaction dependent upon the response of others. The practice of non-attachment to the result of our actions (karma) offers us a way out of bondage from these relational expectations. Confirming this theory, various psychological investigations have shown that when we do selfless acts of kindness, our levels of well being increase and are longer lasting then when we act WITH the expectation of compensation.
Aparigraha, the soul and death
´We will all end in death. Nothing is so certain as this´ Swami Vivekananda.
Dr. Gabor Mate, expert on trauma and addiction, states that the cause behind addiction is the pain that results from the suppression and forgetting of the true self. In this translation of the Yoga Sutras, Swami Vivekananda reflects Dr. Gabor Mate ´s observation in the following story:
What is the purpose of the whole of nature? That the Purusa (the soul-the true self) may gain experience. The Purusa has, as it were, forgotten its mighty, godly, nature.
There is a story that the king of the gods, Indra, once became a pig, wallowing in mire; he had a she pig, and a lot of baby pigs, and was very happy. Then some other angels saw his plight, and came to him, and told him, “You are the king of the gods, you have all the gods command. Why are you here?” But Indra said, “Let me be; I am all right here; I do not care for the heavens, while I have this sow and these little pigs.” The poor gods were at their wits’ end what to do. After a time they decided to slowly come and slay one of the little pigs, and then another, until they had slain all the pigs, and the sow too. When all were dead Indra began to weep and mourn. Then the gods ripped his pig body open and he came out of it, and began to laugh when he realised what a hideous dream he had had; he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that the pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig life!
The Purusa, when it identifies itself with nature, forgets that it is pure and infinite. The Purusa does not live; it is life itself. It does not exist; it is existence itself. The Soul does not know; it is knowledge itself. It is an entire mistake to say that the Soul lives, or knows, or loves. Love and existence are not the qualities of the Purusa, but its essence. -Vivekananda Patanjali Yoga Sutras 2:18
COVID 19, Attachment and Suffering: Remembering to Let Go
As a perennial backpacker I began losing my attachment to material objects many years ago. I am no monk, but through my travels, the observation of others and various losses of various objects, I have learned to appreciate and prefer a life with less stuff. Nonetheless, the COVID 19 crisis forced me to release deeply gripping attachments surrounding relationships, identities and ideals. Throughout the quarantine I found myself weeping and mourning just as Indra did in his little pig body.
With the crisis of COVID 19 I was faced with the reality that I had attached myself and my
sense of worth to the label and idea of being a Yoga teacher, a studio owner and even to the physical existence of the Yoga center. It is no wonder then that when the law forced me to shut the doors of the center, I suffered immensely. This sense of of loss was only further compounded by the deep sense of abandonment I experienced as those whom I had expected to help support and encourage me, did quite the opposite. Then, if that was not enough, no amount of discussion, appeal to justice or pleading for compassion could convince the landlady of the studio to offer any form of discount for the rent during the months of quarantine – even though by law, I was prohibited from using the rented space.
During the quarantine of Covid 19, feeling completely alone and trapped by the situation, both physically and metaphorically, I often found myself just staring off into space unable to enjoy the calming company of my mother, the crazy antics of my cat or even the beauty of the many plants I have loved and cultivated over the years. Due to my own studies and past experiences, I knew that I was going through trauma caused by loss. A loss of identity, friendships, security – an ideal and dream. I did not choose for any of the above to happen and my ability to respond was severely restricted and even prohibited by law. All my options for fight or flight were taken away so the only thing my nervous system could do was shut-down.
Covid 19: Non-Attachment and Joy
´It is only by giving up this world that the other comes…Thus the practice of Yoga leads to discriminatory power, to clearness of mind. The veil drops from the eyes and we see things as they really are. We find that this nature is a compound, and is showing the panorama for the Purusha (soul), who is the witness, that this nature is not the Lord, that the whole of these combinations of nature are simply for the sake of showing these phenomena to the Purusha, the enthroned King within…by long practice, fear ceases ´ Vivekananda Patanjali Sutras 2:15 /4:25
Throughout the confinement of COVID 19 I got angry. I cried. I became numb. I had no desire to get out of bed. If it had not been for my mother being in lockdown with me, as well as the online Yoga classes offered by my teacher Jordi Martin, I might not have. Some days I looked in disdain at my Yoga mat. The days I resisted my daily practice, I just sat around and wallowed in my misery. Nonetheless each time I let go of my resistance and got on the mat, I found myself exploring those aforementioned attachments – those stuck places that blocked my breath and caused turbulance in my mind. I became more aware of my breath and how deeply connected my breath is to the activity of my mind. I observed with even greater clarity how the sensations of my body affected my breath and mind. So with each breath, each movement and internal action I deepened my perception and began to literally feel the knots of attachment, the cause for my suffering, loosen and let go. And in that release, which continues still, I find myself experiencing a new clarity of thought and a deep sense of calm.
Appropriately, this year in the annual Yoga intensives in Barcelona that I attend with Jordi Martin, the focus is the respiratory system. Opening and placing the Annamaya Kosha (the body) in the most optiman manner to receive the greatest impact of breath and Prana (energy). Thanks to Jordi ´s excellent instruction and inscrutable eye I clearly perceive in my own body what great sages of the past taught and what ancient Vedic science knew. That a bird does not fly, it simply opens its wings and is flown. The body does not live, it simply opens itself to the breath and is lived. And the breath does not breathe, it is breathed by the same force and energy that flies the birds soaring wings.
Life exists in the constant inhale and exhale. In our CHOICE to let in and let go. If we held onto our breath like we hold onto so many things, we will only certainly suffer!! So like the breath that breathes you, breathes me, Aparigraha teaches that holding onto things only leads to suffering and letting it go leads to freedom and joy.
A million and one NAMASTES for the kind donations via the Go Fund Me platform to help keep the center open for activities and classes in September. The crisis of Covid 19 has left the future very uncertain. I have invested a lot of love, time, money, sweat and tears into building up the Karmuka Yoga community and center. The instinct to hold onto it no matter what happens, is strong. Very strong. I will do the work – the Karma- to stay. Nonetheless, if circumstances demand that I let the center go and perhaps even leave Seville, that is a reality I am ready to accept. A few months ago contemplating that possibility drove me into a state of emotional paralysis. Now, however, there is peace and deep joy in letting go and letting in whatever life presents. In remembering that all attachments and aversions are defined, accepted and resisted within our own minds. Underneath all of it you and me, we are always free.