“Aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah.” Patanjali, Chapter 2 Sutra 39
In his yoga sutras, Patanjali writes, “When non-acquisitiveness is established, an understanding of the purpose of birth is gained.” Aparigraha, non-acquisitiveness or non-attachment, is the final of the five yamas that form the foundation of the practice of yoga. In our modern society, in the West and in America in particular, much emphasis is placed on what you have. Advertisements constantly bombard us with messages about “newer, better, must have” products. Many people measure success with how much money they make, the type of car they drive, where they live, their clothes, toys, vacations, in short, their possessions. Wayne Dyer teaches that ego is “Edging God Out” and that ego tells us we are what we do and what we have. We get so caught up in making and spending money that we forget to enjoy life. Even thousands of years ago the yogis knew humans were subject to this flaw. By letting go of the material world, we can instead focus on our spiritual path. The purpose of birth that Patanjali refers to can be thought of as our path, our dharma, or our destiny.
My partner, Charlie, and I have spent the last year cutting back and paring down in many ways. At first it was out of necessity, due to financial issues. But once we saw how our lives began to change because of it, we became willing participants in living a more minimalist lifestyle. The first major change we made was cancelling our cable television. Before that I thought that commercials didn’t affect me that much. I knew I watched them but I thought I was too smart and aware to let them influence me. I was very wrong. Even if the commercial didn’t succeed in getting me to buy the product, it still seeped into my consciousness. After being without cable for about six months Charlie and I both felt less desire for things. We felt lighter, and we lost that constant nagging feeling that we needed something more, something better. We began to realize that we already had almost everything that we needed. There are only a few items we still want to obtain, and even these we see not as necessities but as things that would be nice to have. We are now able to get by on much less yet still feel satisfied.
We also began to give things away. Little things, like extra clothes, books or just anything that we had been holding onto that we no longer used. And as we did this two things happened: one, the universe began to put people in our path who needed the very things we were giving away; and two, we began to receive the very things that we needed from others. When we let go of attachment to specific possessions, it created room for a natural flow to establish itself. It is recommended in many traditions, like feng shui, to clear out old clutter in order to create space for new things to flow into your life.
Finally, we both at different times in our lives gave up a lucrative career in a field we were unhappy with in order to follow our hearts and do what we were passionate about. When you let go of the need to buy and have lots of material things, it allows you to explore your true passions and possibly make less money to do something you love. I am grateful that I have been able to do this, as not everyone has the support it takes follow their dreams. However, I do think more people could if they were able to practice non-attachment and simplify their lives. It isn’t always easy and there have been times when we struggled, but it has been worth it. For us, giving up some material pleasures has freed us up to follow our true path, and we have found so much more fulfillment and happiness because of it.