Aparigraha is the fifth and final ethical restraint, or yama, which is the 1st of the eight limbs of yoga. It means non-possessiveness or non-hoarding. In practicing aparigraha, we aspire to be free from attachment in word, thought, and deed. This includes not striving after, accumulating and clinging to unnecessary things.
When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations. – Yoga Sutra 2.39
An extreme example of the dangers of clinging can be seen with people who suffer from an obsessive-compulsive related condition called Hoarding Disorder. The individual either believes they need more and more things in order to be ok or they are unable to let go of things that are no longer needed – or both. As a result, they accumulate so many possessions that they can no longer be used in the intended way. The objects become a source of anxiety and a burden, causing a number of harmful effects on the sufferer and others around them.
The belief that our possessions will keep us safe or happy is a delusion. Disappointment, unwanted outcomes, illness, injury and death happen at every socioeconomic level. Research shows that material wealth is correlated with happiness only to the point at which we no longer have to struggle – when our basic needs are met. In addition, people who organize their lives around a consumer mindset report lower levels of life satisfaction and personal wellbeing. Excessive material pursuits can have destructive effects on relationships and the environment, which ultimately impacts us all. Research also shows that giving brings more lasting happiness than self-indulgence.
When we practice aparigraha, we keep only what is needed and no more. This applies not only to material things like money, possessions, and gifts, but also with intangibles such as pleasurable feelings, validation, attention, assistance, accomplishment, power, and control.
But, how can we practice aparigraha in our daily lives? We can:
- simplify our lives by letting go of unnecessary possessions.
- abandon excessive striving for pleasure, approval and validation.
- release attachment to outcome, focusing instead on intention.
- share internal and material resources through acts of service and generosity.
Although it can be frightening at first to think about letting go of things we’ve been conditioned to believe we need to be happy, much freedom can be found in the releasing. By letting go of things that no longer serve us, we make more space for what is useful and helpful. Only through the direct experience of letting go can we discover that we already have everything needed inside of us, just waiting to be uncovered.