Have you seen that show Hoarders? It’s been on air for a while now (I’m usually last to hop on the reality show train, forgive me), but I recently started watching a few episodes. In case you weren’t aware: each episode of Hoarders follows a person who accrues so much stuff that it eventually overruns her home. We see piles of junk on floors, counters, beds, tables, anything from trash to food to feral cats, and each show takes us from the breaking point to the transformation and healing process, with the help of a professional. Hoarding is a devastating illness usually accompanied by at least one other psychological ailment, such as manic depressive behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or some kind of trauma (abandonment, abuse) that was never dealt with in a healthy manner. The show itself is wildly depressing to watch, and completely heartbreaking, especially when hope for the hoarder is bleak; often, these people are in danger of losing their homes, and loved ones are ready to walk away forever. It’s really hard to fully understand why this person physically cannot throw away even the most putrid of garbage, spoiled food, broken toys, splintered furniture. They can’t seem to let go. They are totally possessed by their stuff.
This is, of course, a very extreme (maybe the most extreme) example of attachment, what we know in yoga as raga. Raga is considered one of the five kleshas, the root causes of our suffering. The kleshas are universal and ever-present. They include raga, as well as avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), dvesha (aversion), and abhinivesha (clinging to bodily life). As human beings, none of us are immune to the effects of the kleshas, and at any given moment we are likely plagued with some kind of suffering, even if just a tiny bit.
Attachment invites the other kleshas to plague us also. We easily become so attached to a thing or a feeling that we are unwilling to give it up, and when we’re unwilling, we become fearful (aversion), we are blind to reality (ignorance), we think it’s what we need to be happy and powerful (ego), and we’ll make sure no one takes it away from us (clinging).
How do we even begin a practice of aparigraha, non-possessiveness, non-hoarding? Do we give all our possessions away and banish ourselves into a life of nothingness? Some might interpret it this way. But not all possessions and attachments are “bad.” It can feel nice to be attached to your partner, your pet, your morning rituals. In this way, you could think about aparigraha as a mental practice of putting your possessions into categories: observing the things you need for survival (food, clean water, a home), the things you need to meet your goals (nice pants to wear to the office, a car to take you there, a toothbrush, a computer, running shoes to train in), and the things you want to help you with your joy (your flatscreen TV, a happy hour margarita and bucket of guacamole, that vacation to Hawaii, expensive sheets with a high thread-count). Think of all your stuff simply as tools that are helping you along your path. From here, sift through your inventory and filter out the things that don’t fit into these categories. Make a few sacrifices, notice how it feels to go without. Observe is the key.
When we invite a practice of aparigraha into our lives, we are saying that we choose freedom. We don’t have to rely on things, or even feelings, to bring us happiness. And each time we exhale, each time we relax into a state of quietness and stillness, each time we choose simple over complex, we learn to be comfortable with less and less.