Practicing Aparigraha during the holidays

Practicing Aparigraha during the holidays

In this season of excess, how can we practice aparigraha? This important yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right. 

Practicing aparigraha means non-hoarding, non-collecting, and letting go. That’s a challenge during the holidays, because aren’t we all attached to things right now? First of all, we have a deadline we’re attached to — gotta get it all done by Christmas day! We also get attached to traditions — it just isn’t Christmas without five batches of cookies! We all probably know someone who stays stubbornly attached to some long-held holiday tradition, even if it makes her stressed, anxious, broke, and angry. (It’s not me, I swear!) In that situation, no one benefits. 

Some of us struggle with sadness during the holidays, and we may become too attached to numbing behaviors. Maybe we drink too much, or eat too much. Maybe we zone out in front of the Hallmark Channel, choosing to stay with bland and predictable holiday movies instead of facing reality or allowing our feelings to surface. 

Finally, we can also become too attached to our thoughts, and our ways of thinking. Negative thought patterns and false beliefs can clutter up our minds just like our closets get cluttered with old stuff. That clutter prevents us from human connection. 

Ways to practice aparigraha 

1. Awareness.

The first step always seems to be awareness, doesn’t it? Start by taking a step back from yourself, and observe your day, your schedule, or maybe your to-do list, from an outsider’s perspective. In what ways might you be hoarding or collecting? Are you too attached to the idea of a “perfect” Christmas? Are you attached to the idea of always feeling overly busy and stressed out during December, because it is expected? 

2. Want vs. Need.

The holidays are all about excess. We are bombarded with advertisements for the “perfect” gift. We may find ourselves making two lists — one list of gifts to buy for friends and family, and one list of what we want. But really, do we need those things? Does anyone? 

Take time to feel gratitude for all that you already have. Start a gratitude journal and write a list, or maybe light a candle and offer a prayer of thanks. A roof over your head, a hot cup of coffee, a loyal dog, a soft cozy sweatshirt, whatever comes to mind. Gratitude invites the heart to open, and it’s hard to feel stressed when you are feeling thankful. 

3. Traditions or what feeds your soul?

When my daughters were young, I read a book called Unplug the Christmas Machine. One thing that sticks with me is young children at holiday time: what they really want is time with you. They don’t really care about traditions, and the expectation of Christmas is exhausting for them. Maybe it is better to stay home and make hot chocolate, instead of fighting your way to the mall to see Santa. Let go of that “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” mindset.

On the other hand, traditions can also feed your soul. Make a list of your holiday traditions. Which ones are worth keeping, and which ones no longer serve you? I do this every year, even though the list is usually the same: time with family, sacred holiday music, the smell of pine trees, my wine club party, the Messiah sing-along at the Kennedy Center. 

4. The act of selfless service. 

One of the important lessons from the Bhagavad Gita is karma yoga, or actions without attachment to outcome. Meaning, when we take an action, say baking cookies, we bake cookies without any expectations. We bake cookies for the joy of baking cookies. We do not expect that anyone will thank us, praise our cookies, or even eat the cookies. The act of baking cookies becomes an act of selfless service. This is a heady concept, I know, and one that you may want to meditate on for a while. But how would your holiday change if you did this? If every action was done from a place of selfless service, and you didn’t expect anything from it? 

How are you practicing aparigraha this holiday season? Leave me a note in the comments section — I’d love to hear from you! 

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