’Tis the season of excess. In all the ways. Too much doing, rushing, eating, whirling, spending, running, shopping. Too much of too much. Seems to me it’s the perfect time to get back to basics and revisit the foundations of yoga, which set the stage for a shift of consciousness from chaos toward freedom.
The fifth yama listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is aparigraha. Breaking the word into its parts, you have: a- a prefix that changes the meaning of what it precedes to the opposite; pari- “on all sides”; graha- “to grab. To grab on all sides (or in every direction) would be parigraha, and that, in a word, sums up how we tend to move through the holidays. Perhaps a way to find a little more peace and a little less chaos through the season would be to apply the principle of aparigraha. What would it look like to not grab on all sides, to practice non-possessiveness, to take only what we need as we trudge through the coming weeks?
Some ideas to consider:
Clearing out- If you are reading this post, I think it’s safe to make the assumption that you, like me, have more than you need. No matter how I try to streamline, clear out clutter, give something away each time I purchase a new item, there is still too much stuff in my house. My goal for the coming month is to have a bag into which a minimum of one item per day is deposited. If it’s been a while since you’ve made a big drop at the Goodwill or Cause for Paws, maybe it’s more than one item per day for you. ’Tis the season of collecting and accumulating. I’d like to turn that around into a time of clearing out.
Mindful shopping- I definitely took advantage of the post-Thanksgiving sales to purchase some items I regularly use at a discounted price. But it’s a slippery slope from making a few purchases to a month-long shopping binge. I’d like to not only avoid unnecessary purchases, but to be thoughtful about the ones I make for myself and others. My family has already collectively decided to have a gift-free holiday. I’m planning quality time with some friends in lieu of gift-giving. And when I do shop, I want to shop small, local, selecting items that are personal and meaningful and buying nothing just for the sake of buying.
Giving back- For many, the holidays are a time of stress and sadness rather than a time of joyful celebration. If that sounds familiar, resolve to spend some time in service this month. Offering the precious gift of your time can be so much more rewarding than donating money or stuff. Every hour spent in service bestows a blessings on someone in need, and through serving, our own hearts find lightness and healing. In the words of Ghandi “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Yes. You can think about aparigraha as not only not taking more than you need, but generously giving to others what they need.
Opportunities for giving and gathering- If you have a friend group whose longtime ritual include gift-giving, you might consider suggesting a new tradition. Whether a potluck, movie night, dance party, sharing circle, service afternoon… there are so many other ways to celebrate and show gratitude for friendship than with things. Shared experiences create sweet memories that live on so much longer than trinkets ever could.
Anonymous giving- Here are three of my favorites, and I hope you’ll share your own as well.
Flowers – I actually do this one all year long. When I grocery shop, I will often pick up a bouquet of flowers, but instead of taking them home with me, I leave them with the checkout clerk and ask her/him to gift them to another customer- someone who looks like they might need a day-brightener.
Cafe surprise – This can be done in a restaurant just as easily, but my favorite place to do it is anywhere you order at the counter. I’ll order and pay for my food and either give the clerk cash or leave my credit card and ask them to anonymously pay for the next person in line. It’s fun to watch the expression on the face of one who has just received a surprise gift.
Gift card drop – Target or Walmart are ideal spots to grab a few gift cards and randomly walk up to a harried father or mother with a pack of tired, whining kids and hand them a gift card, say “Happy Holidays” and walk away.
We have so much, and I hope you’ve spent some time in the past week logging the abundance you enjoy. But that abundance is well overgrown for many of us, and we take- and keep- more than we need. What if this were truly the season for giving- in whatever ways you are able, from whatever stores of resources you have (time, money, belongings, all of the above)- instead of collecting this holiday season? I know I’d like to start the new year in a place that feels much lighter than I feel right now. This is a good start.