As in nature, yogis believe that there is an ebb and flow to everything: a constant cycle of growth and expansion, followed by death and surrender or release. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of surrender, of letting go. There is a concept in yoga called aparigraha, which literally translates as “non-possessiveness,” “non-grasping,” or “non-greed” …. on a larger scale, it may also be interpreted as non-attachment. Essentially, it is the state of not clinging to anything … the ability to let go of the belief that your happiness depends on your ability to hold on to what you define as “yours” – whether that be material possessions, beauty, health, etc. Our tendency as humans is to grasp onto things in order to define ourselves. Yet it is this grasping which binds us to those very objects, and prevents us from realizing that at our core, we are whole, complete beings.
We are a culture of grasping. We cling to things in order to protect ourselves, to define ourselves, and to shield ourselves from the possibility of having to experience loss. We hold on to everything from material success, pride, intelligence and beauty to jealousy, grief, anxiety, and anger. Suffering, according to yoga, is caused by our mistaken belief that we are defined by our tangible and intangible “possessions” (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, etc.). In other words, suffering is caused by a resistance to real or imagined loss of that which we associate with the self. Letting go of these things frees us from the fear of loss/change which defines us. We become unattached to what we can gain or lose in any situation, and this non-attachment is liberating in the most profound way.
Today, I encourage you to examine the things that you hold on to. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you scared to lose?
- What do you hold on to and resist letting go of?
- What makes you feel safe?
- What do you use to define yourself, and why?
- What do you believe holds the key to your happiness (relationships, wealth, beauty, etc.)?
- If you have these things, do you fear their loss? If you don’t have these things, why do you feel you must attain them in order to be happy?
I have included a breathing and meditation practice below, which I hope will help you introduce some aparigraha into your own life. Know that there is a great deal of courage and beauty in surrendering your wants and needs. In doing so, we recognize that we are greater and more complete than anything we could ever possess.
“Letting go” breathing exercise:
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor and place your hands, palms open, on your thighs. If this is not comfortable for you, sit upright in a chair, or lay on the floor with one hand on the belly and one hand on the heart. Relax the shoulders down the back and bring your awareness to your breath.
Breathe deeply into all four sides of the torso on the inhale, and feel how there is a natural lift, a natural “filling up” sensation. On the exhale, release the breath completely from the body and notice the natural “letting go,” or surrendering, that accompanies it. With the mind’s eye, follow the breath for several minutes. When you have a steady rhythm and feel present on the mat, you can move to the next step. The natural ebb and flow of the breath will be used to create a meditation.
On the inhales, mentally cultivate the thought: “I open myself to the possibility of change.” On the exhales, mentally cultivate the thought: “I let go [release] that which does not serve me.” If you are working on letting go of a specific thing (e.g., jealousy, grief, anxiety) you could release that particular thing on the exhale. Continue like this for 2-3 minutes.
When you are finished with the meditation, sit quietly and allow the breath to become quiet. If you have the time, lay down for 5-10 minutes in savasana (corpse pose) and release the entire weight of the body into the floor. Feel the sense of quiet and freedom that this meditation evokes.
This simple meditation can also be done in the car, when walking, etc. It is most powerful when you are experiencing the emotion that you would like to let go of.