“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
-Henry David Thoreau
This past weekend, my 6-year-old kids spent a day separating out toys they no longer use for donation. They ended up with about four boxes full of perfectly good things, and they were unfazed. They were satisfied with their success, and did not seem to feel any sense of loss without these items. Yet as an observer (and a bit of a sentimental hoarder), it got me thinking a lot about non-attachment, or Vairagya वैराग्य, as it is termed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I have always struggled with this little jewel of yoga philosophy, because I attach sentiment to objects and have historically kept things that are meaningful to me.…okay, maybe I have also kept some of those things that I am just certain will be really useful someday (sound familiar?). After all, I want to make sure I reuse things when at all possible, which is a good thing, right? Maybe, in certain cases, but if I am really honest with myself, I think that these internal struggles with my ‘stuff’ take up perfectly good space in my brain for bigger and better things.
Lately, I have made honesty with myself a theme in my life. My husband and I have been talking a lot about the things we want out of life, and you know what? Those things involve relatively little ‘stuff.’ In fact, we hope to downsize our list of material possessions quite a bit in the near future, thinking it will help us to become more financially unburdened, and less dependent on space, so that we are free to travel and act on our various interests and dreams. The truth is, the practice of holding onto a bunch of ‘stuff’ really weighs us down—both literally and metaphysically. For instance, if I own a big house, I have to clean it, decorate it, heat and cool it, tend to my yard, and maintain the structure. If I go to a yoga class where we spend 15 minutes meditating, and I spend that time thinking about how flabby my arms are and that I wish we were doing a fast flow and hand balances, then haven’t I wasted an opportunity to help myself feel better and less burdened by repeating a mantra of criticism and angst? Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning and loving a big house, or doing hand balances (so much fun!), as long as they enhance, rather than diminish, a person’s ability to live in a way that is both expansive and contented. The way I see it, in order to do this, we must fully embrace a love of people, places, things, and experiences, for the time in which they serve us on our journeys. But we must also be okay with letting go of what no longer serves us, without judgement, or anger, or grief. How do we do that? I’m not sure I know.
What I do know, is that part of our yoga practice is learning to get rid of the clutter of old thought processes, preconceptions, reactions, and harmful emotions, so we may discover the truest and most authentic forms of ourselves. The first step is actually to stop.
No, really. Stop.
And become an observer of our own inner-workings.
As we challenge ourselves to this deeply personal work, inconsistencies and discordances may arise between our current values and behaviors, and those we uncover as our real values and concordant behaviors. The remedy is change. Change will not be immediate, and change will not be easy. Change requires letting go of long-held beliefs, long-sought-after goals, and maybe even some sentimentally valuable possessions. If we can make even small shifts in these etched-in patterns, we gain a lot. Overcoming obstacles is enormously empowering, especially when they are obstacles of our own inception. So start small with a little compassionate and internal honesty, then learn to trust what you find.
Life should be a collection of experience, reflection, learning, love, and growth, each benefitting from the other. But these key aspects of a lifelong process are diminished and overshadowed by any “junk” we retain in the closets of our minds, bodies, and homes. So, let go of something you don’t need in your life, and savor the experiences that come your way. I’ll be on the path, too (if you see me, I like hugs and smiles—or equally, high-fives).