Letting go: The Key to Non-Possessing

Love and a few other things…..

When my husband and I decided to close our mental health business in California and move into an RV, we had some serious downsizing to do. We sold and donated as much as we could, then put the rest into storage and took the leap toward a fresh start. Ten years later, we have less material stuff, but we are still downsizing. When I look around my house and yard, I realize that I am attached to some things–flowers, art supplies, clothes, comfortable furniture, certain kitchen items, and, of course, financial stability. In my mind, if it supports a good life, then I need it. If it weighs me down, then it has to go.

And that’s just about the stuff. How does possessiveness affect our personal relationships? We refer to our significant others as “my” this or that, and feel we have a right to know everything about them. We expect certain behaviors or attitudes from family members just because we are related. Parents sometimes wish they could lock their children up so no one else will take them or influence them or make them different. All of that holding on and expectation is where the trouble starts.

Possessiveness is a curse and a heavy burden to bear. The more we hold onto something or someone, the less we can enjoy it or them. My mother had a poster in the hallway that said this: “If you love something very much, let it go. If it does not come back, it was never yours. If it does come back, love it forever.” I would add, “But don’t hold on too tight.”

I love the poem by Kahlil Gibran “On Children.” I first read it in my early twenties, just as I was becoming a mother. Here is an excerpt:

Photo by Nicolas Postiglioni on Pexels.com

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself….They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you…their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams….”

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth…”

Imagine if you could perceive all things, and people and thoughts as arrows moving through you and adding to the beauty and complexity of life. Let go of those arrows so that others may benefit.

Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness

Can I own this view?

Wanting, craving, needing, possessing…….attachment. How can we be free when we are so weighed down with stuff and personal attachments? Aparigraha seems to walk hand in hand with the last one–Brahmacharya-Non-excess. So, let’s go deeper.

We are a consumer culture, in fact, a consumer world. Today we have more things than at any other time in history. We buy houses, fill them up with furniture and hoards of kitchen items and electronics and knick knacks, then rent storage sheds to hold all the other stuff that doesn’t fit. When it comes time to “downsize,” most of us just procrastinate and hope someone else will make the hard decisions…later. In the process of over-attaching to our things we have lost our souls. If you read the previous two posts, you have heard this before.

So, how is possessiveness different from excess? Not much different in fact. When we have excess, we are surrounded by…whatever. We have more than enough. Even if we want more, we secretly know we have enough. When we feel possessive, we come from a place of lack. Not enough food, clothes, nice cars, pretty hair, loving children…you name it. We all have some parts of our lives that feel “less than.”

When I see a young woman who reminds me of my younger self, for a moment I want to be her, or my younger self again. I unconsciously want what she has and I never want it to go away. I get jealous and possessive of the youth that I no longer see in the mirror or feel in my bones. I know that it is impossible to stay young. Jealousy and possessiveness have invaded my heart and made me miserable, even if it was only for a moment. I wanted what I did not have. And that, according to the Buddha, is the cause of suffering. Craving=suffering.

Well now. As mentioned in the previous post, we humans are wanting machines. We crave pleasure, and safety, and beauty, and an easy life. But by craving these things we make ourselves suffer. It is a wild, intricate merry go round. One minute we are happy and satisfied and the next we are drawn like magnets to something or someone that we want to possess. Sigh.

Being human is hard work. Being a good human who grows and transforms is harder work. But as we slowly move away from the craving and wanting, we free ourselves to experience life more fully. We make space for ourselves, just as we are, right now, all the creaky bones and wrinkled skin included.

And, in the end, we can never really possess anything or anyone. We are only here for a split second of time in the larger scheme of things. We do not own anything except this moment. We are only caregivers of our homes and yards and children and friends. Nothing is permanent. Once we realize that, we are free to enjoy what is right in front of us, moment to moment.

When too much is enough

Every single flower has its beauty.

I thought this would be a no-brainer for me. I’m not a collector. I don’t like clutter. And too much “stuff” makes me claustrophobic. But, within a day of reading one chapter on Brahmacharya, or non-excess, I realized that I do crave things, collect things, and buy things just because I can. We have moved enough times to realize that our stuff weighs us down and creates lethargy. With each move we have downsized, and still, there is more than enough, and frequently, too much. There are definitely things that we need to survive. But, where is that line? Do we really need four winter coats? Or, 25 pairs of shoes? Etc. You get the point.

So, I decided to make list of the “things” that I tend to want every day. Food, of course, is at the top of that list. I won’t bore you with my own baggage, but here are some thoughts:

We need food to survive, right? It is one of those tricky categories in addiction therapy that requires an intricate balance in order to manage just the right amount. But what happens when you only want fruit? or pasta? or sugar? Or, on the other hand, you starve yourself in order to lose weight? You create an excess of starvation. What happens when your favorite Starbuck’s closes down for a month to remodel and you suddenly have to go to a different one where they don’t make your favorite drink the way you like it? What happens when you have to see yourself craving something that could obviously be eliminated from your life, but you just don’t want to let go?

Well, you start to wake up.

We could spend the rest of our lives managing our food cravings, but what about all that other stuff? Stuff like books, and clothes, and shoes, and knick knacks, and plants, and kitchen gadgets, and….on and on. You name it. What do you collect?

The point is this: Do you own your stuff? Or does your stuff own you? Do you eat the food, or does the food eat you?

There are moments when we clearly see our things as things, inanimate, non-living things. Some of them necessary, most of them, not. That is when the struggle begins. When we feel that conflict, we can choose to take action to lighten our burdens, give things away, make decisions about what to keep, and why we need to keep them, and commit to buying less, eating more mindfully, and being grateful for the things that we have.

And, as usual, gratitude is the key. When we are truly grateful, every single day, for the things, and the people that complete our lives, we may find that we need less. We want less. We buy less. We appreciate empty space and silence. And we can actually see a single flower as it opens up first thing in the morning, no expectations or ego issues, just a little sunshine and water. How simple.

Can you let something go and make space for gratitude today?

Remember, it’s a process.

Brahmacharya: Non-Excess

When my husband and I started RV-ing we learned quickly that there was only so much space for stuff. We only had a small closet that we shared, a small pantry for food and a studio sized refrigerator and stove that reminded us of when we first struck out on our own way back when rent was $100 a month. It was a simple life and we embraced it. Because we had less stuff, we tended to spend more time outside, walking the dogs, exploring nature, and learning about all the little towns we visited. It is a lifestyle I highly recommend to anyone who can drive. But that is another subject and not really what we’re talking about here.

“If only I had a nice condo on the water with a boat and a dock….”

We are a nation of consumers. No one doubts that. We drink too much, eat too much, buy too much, talk too much and watch too much tv. And that’s just the beginning of the list. We numb ourselves with overconsumption and excess. Sometimes we over-do it because we have been hurt or neglected in the past, or we’re afraid of the future, or we simply can’t tolerate the boredom of the present. Sometimes we do these things out of habit, just because we can. Once you pause and pay attention to your habits, you might see a little excess in your own life.

Brahmacharya, non-excess, reminds us to appreciate what we have rather than constantly craving for more. And it is not an easy task. Like yoga and meditation, this is a practice. The word, brahamacharya means walking with God. “It is a call to leave greed and excess behind and walk in this world with wonder and awe, practicing non excess and attending to each moment as holy.” (Hawk, 2012) Easier said than done, right?

Have you ever watched young children on their birthdays or Christmas, opening presents, greedily, aggressively, happily? “Oh! This is exactly what I wanted! Thank you!” They play with the toy or game for a while, then they are bored with it and push it aside. They always seem to want more, different, better. Are adults any different? Don’t we do the same thing, just with bigger, more expensive toys? This is a problem when we are working toward personal balance.

If Covid has taught us anything, it is that we can live without “things.” During the lockdown, many people took the time to restructure their home lives, donating clothing, toys, household items, books, and external fluff that was not necessary to survive. Another reaction was to gather more stuff as a barrier around our fragile hearts so we could feel safe and secure. When it comes down to it, what we really need now is balance.

We all find balance in different ways. Gratitude helps, a lot. Feeling grateful at least once a day can remind us that we already have enough, We ARE enough.

What if we spent some part of each day recognizing the sacredness all around us? The wind, the sun, the trees, the flowers, children, animals, each breath…every single moment contains an element of sacredness. What is holy to you right now? Can you “walk with God” for a while?

Interrupting, Judging and Being Busy

Can you stop judging, interrupting and being busy for one day?

Here are just three ways we steal from ourselves, and others, without meaning to.

Interrupting

Has this happened to you? It’s subtle, and can be rather disturbing when it becomes a habit. When we interrupt we are telling the other person, “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” Sometimes in conversations we know what the other person is going to say; we might agree wholeheartedly and want to confirm that we are on the same page, so we interrupt. Other times we disagree and want to prove our point, so we interrupt with such vigor that the other person’s voice becomes inaudible. The thing is, either way, we have derailed another person’s thoughts and negated their validity.

In therapy school we learn t sit back and listen, to “ride on the shoulders of the client as if you are truly with them.” This is not easy. Mindful breathing helps though. When you feel like interrupting, take a couple deep breaths and ask yourself if what you have to say can wait. Usually, it can. When you are interrupted, take a couple deep breaths, gather your thoughts and ask yourself if the person who interrupted you needs to be heard more than you do. If so, let it go. If not, let them finish, then finish your sentence then, if you want to finish your thought, say this, “Well, what I was going to say was….” Eventually that person will get the message.

Judging

Judging is another tricky situation where we need to pay attention. We need to make judgments based on safety and common sense. Like judging if that car is going to cut you off, or if the person walking toward you is going to give you space or continue walking into you. We can also make judgments about people in general, whether they are “good” or “not good.” But that is where it gets tricky. Sometimes people may look a certain way but behave in the opposite way. There is a young woman who works in a local grocery store. She is very loud and somewhat intrusive. I avoided her for the first few times I saw her. Then one day she was in the parking lot gathering shopping carts, as and I walked toward her, she made direct eye contact and said this, “Why are people so rude? Why can’t they put their own carts back? That lady just yelled at me to come get her cart then she pushed the cart toward me and it almost hit me! Why did she have to do that?”

This young woman was obviously challenged in ways only she could understand, but the woman who demanded that she come get her cart was challenged in a different way. She made a judgement that the young woman had no feelings. She assumed that she mattered more than the grocery store worker. From that day on, I made a choice to say hi to this young woman and to put my shopping cart back where I got it.

We judge unconsciously in order to maintain our own safe space and equilibrium. But when the judging turns to negativity and criticism it’s time to pause and reconsider. Try turning your negative judgments into kindness. You will feel better and eventually learn to stop judging yourself as well as others.

Being Busy…All the Time

Who doesn’t do this? Most onus are slaves to our own momentum. We think if we aren’t “doing something” we aren’t worthwhile human beings. (Self harm?) We make lists, add to the lists, then do things that were not even on the lists. And by the end of the day we wonder why we feel like we didn’t actually accomplish anything. Life is full for most of us. When a friend or a professional suggests including some outdoor time, or another yoga class to our already busy schedule, we cringe with the thought of adding one more thing. But, by staying busy all the tie, usually with trivial activities, we steal from ourselves. We also steal from the people we love.

I find that making lists helps, but then I try to prioritize what’s on the list and choose 3-5 items to complete in that day. If you are a “morning person,” getting a few of these done early can be very satisfying. If you find that your energy peaks in the afternoon, allow yourself to move slowly unit that point, then what you know you can do before you crash onto the couch.

Life is always a balancing act–a little work, a little play; a little noise, a little silence, etc. Finding the middle path is what we might strive for every day. Too much work and we are always tired. Too much play and we never finish our work. There is a Goldilocks zone in everything.

Asteya, non-stealing, reminds us that we do not have to take money or someone else’s stuff to be stealing. We steal time and energy. We steal from nature and our children’s future by ignoring climate change. We rob ourselves and others by ignoring that inner voice that says we should slow down, and listen to ourselves and others without constantly judging and competing. This is another way we stop harming ourselves and others. (Ahimsa) And is it a lifelong process.

Stealing From Ourselves

Deborah Adele says this best, so I will defer to her for these first few paragraphs.

Are you stealing from yourself?

“In all the ways that we impose an outside image of ourselves onto ourselves, we are stealing from the unfolding of our own uniqueness. All demands and expectations that we place on ourselves steal from our own enthusiasm. All self-sabotage, lack of belief in ourselves, low self-esteem, judgments, criticisms, and demands for perfection are forms of self-abuse in which we destroy the very essence of our vitality. All the ways we live in the past or future steal from ourselves. And all the ways we put up fences, whether real or imagined, around our physical belongings or around our mental idealisms, we put up barriers that steal from the full expansion of our own lives.

We are captured in a culture where our very identity is tied up with our accomplishments. We wear all we have to do like a badge on our shirt for all to see. In this rush to get to the next thing, we have left no time for ourselves to digest and assimilate our lives; this may be our biggest theft of all. We need time to catch up with ourselves. We need time to chew and ponder and allow the experiences of life to integrate within us. We need time to rest and to reflect and to contemplate..”

“…Small children, as they reach a certain age, begin to want what the other one has. It doesn’t matter what it is, they want it. Looking at the state of the world, it seems many adults are still caught in the toddler stage of wanting what the other one has. The tenet of Asteya, or non stealing, asks us to shift our focus from the other to ourselves. It asks us to get excited about the possibilities for our own life. When we attend to our own growth and learning in the area of our interests, we are engaged in the joy and challenge of building ourselves. From the fullness of our own talent and skill, we automatically serve the world rather that steal from it…” (Adele, pp. 66-68)

So, how do we stop stealing from ourselves? Below is a list of ways we steal from ourselves. When you’re ready, choose one and work on it for one week. Just notice, then m are small changes when possible.

  1. Imposing an outside image of yourself. (Pretending to be something that you’re not just so you can be accepted.)
  2. Putting demands and expectations on yourself. (I should…, I need to…, I have to…, etc.)
  3. Using self-sabotage. (I can’t, I don’t I’m not good at that, etc.
  4. The next group goes together. Lack of belief in yourself, low self-esteem, judging, criticizing, demanding perfection. Choose one and tell yourself the opposite. (I AM good at that. Or, I DO NOT need to be perfect. OR, I AM GOOD ENOUGH.)
  5. Living in the past or future. (The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence. And, the future is a dream; the present is reality.) Can you simple “Be Here, Now?)
  6. Putting up fences around belongings, and/or beliefs. (My, Mine, I believe this and that makes it true, etc.)
  7. Staying busy and using your to-do list as an escape from yourself or others.

REMEMBER: LIFE IS A PROCESS. WE ARE ALL GROWING ALL THE TIME. WE ARE ALSO GOOD ENOUGH AS WE ARE RIGHT NOW, IN THIS MOMENT.

Shades of Gray

Here’s a dilemma. You see a perfect photo on Facebook and you want to use it in one of your blog posts/ramblings about honesty and non-stealing. You right click and it lets you save the photo. Should you use it?

I “borrowed” this from a Facebook group called Minimalist Photography. I’ve had it for a while and can’t find the original page/post. I think it is perfect. So I am sharing it with whoever reads this.

Like honesty, stealing is a slippery slope, not black or white, but gray. And, look at all the shades of gray in this photo!

Asteya, or Non-Stealing

“Non-stealing implies more than not taking what isn’t ours. It is an inherent understanding that from the moment we are born, we are in debt to this gift called life. The ancient Vedic scriptures speak of taking nothing without giving something back. Imagine what would happen if each time we took something, we gave something back.” Deborah Adele

Steya means “to steal.” Asteya is the opposite–to take nothing that does not belong to us. Stealing can come in many forms. We steal from the earth by polluting the air and water and ignoring climate change. We steal from our children’s future this way as well, and by spending money with no thought toward tomorrow. We steal from our families and friends by ignoring their needs in favor of our own, and we steal from ourselves by judging and condemning ourselves for things we have no control over.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Stealing is one of those sins that many Catholic children (and adults) have had to confess to the priest regularly. “I stole my brother’s toy car and hid it under my bed.” Or, I stole my friend’s homework on the bus so I could copy it…but I gave it back to him.” Or, “I really did steal those cookies from the cookie jar.” Etc. What child has not stolen a candy bar or a small toy from a store when their parents were not looking?

As we get older we learn that stealing is simply unacceptable. But sometimes it feels justified, like when you know you are not being paid enough for the work you do, or when it seems like everyone else has everything you don’t have, or when you simply want something that you can’t afford. Human beings can justify many things because of our deep emotional needs.

In Buddhism, craving what we do not have is considered the source of all human suffering. ALL human suffering. We suffer when we can’t have what we want and we continue to want it anyway. Wanting causes suffering. When we are in this cycle of craving we are actually stealing from ourselves. Even if the suffering is a result of illness or injury or a broken heart. Yes, it hurts, and no one expects you to ignore the pain. But suffering begins when we allow ourselves to wallow in the pain as if that will change anything. We must find a way to stop the craving if we are to have any peace in this life.

The Fluidity of Truth

“Truth is a dance where the rules and certainties change with the circumstances.” Deborah Adele

What are you not seeing because you are seeing what you are seeing?

So, if we are always telling the truth, doesn’t there come a time when the truth hurts? Of course. No one wants to hear that they’ve made an irreparable mistake, or their artwork sucks, or even that they’re wearing the wrong color for their skin type. Truth is slippery sometimes. Each situation requires “new eyes” so that we are not jumping to conclusions or harming someone with our own value systems.

When I was at Virginia Wesleyan, I was the managing editor of our college newspaper. This meant that I assigned certain writers to certain stories, helped them get interviews, helped them with the writing process, and then edited their rough drafts before we submitted the paper to the printer. At that time in my life, I considered myself an expert in grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. I was an English major after all! There was a young writer on our staff who had great ideas, and lots of enthusiasm, but his background in proper form was lacking. I returned one of his articles to him with red ink corrections all over it. He asked why. I said he needed to learn how to spell, punctuate and put sentences together so that they made sense. (Or something to that effect.) He left.

The next day he came in early with his corrected article in his hand, but he refused to let me look at it. He said he knew all about grammar and punctuation, but that he had turned in a rough draft with the intention of cleaning it up later. “And, I want to say something else. It really hurt my feelings when you said I needed to learn how to spell and punctuate. I like you but sometimes you can be brutally honest and that is why no one wants you to read their work. You are too honest!” I was slightly shocked and mildly humiliated at his gentle, yet brutal, honesty.

That young guy taught me something important that day. He was right. I had used my “perfect” grammar and sentence structure to hurt his feelings and almost lost him as a staff writer. From that day on I learned to choose my words carefully and to put myself in the other person’s shoes before speaking. I graduated soon after that, but I will never forget the lesson he taught me about being “brutally honest.”

Choosing my words carefully is still a practice though. I understand that being truthful comes with a responsibility to also be kind and compassionate with my words, to “change my glasses,” so to speak, so that I can see from another perspective and see what I am not seeing.

Saying Yes When You Mean No

How often have you done this? A friend asks you to do something and without thinking, you say yes, I’ll do it. Then you regret it. Or you find yourself overwhelmed with work because you wanted to please your boss. Or you go to the same old restaurants, movies, hang outs with friends even though you would like to do something different.

Most of us are nice people. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or create any kind of conflict. Sometimes we are nice because that’s how we were raised. Being nice is good, right? Well, here’s another perspective:

Does nice mean hiding your true feelings?

According to Deborah Adele, (See her book below), “Nice is an illusion, a cloak hiding lies.” Huh? Seriously? She continues, Nice “is an imposed image of what one thinks they should be. It is a packaging of self in a presentable box, imposed by an outer authority. People who are “nice” hold truth inside until they reach a breaking point and then they become dangerously inappropriate….” Hmmm. I guess this is true sometimes.

On the other hand, “Real,” according to Ms. Adele, “comes from the center of our unique essence and speaks to the moment from that center. Real has a boldness to it, an essence, a spontaneity. Real asks us to live from a place where there is nothing to defend and nothing to manage.”

Honesty isn’t always pretty. But it can be kind.

So, if we are practicing Satya, truthfulness, with ourselves, why do we say yes when we mean no? How can we be nice and real at the same time? And how can we be real while also observing Ahimsa, or non-harming?

These deep, philosophical questions are why yoga is a practice, and, honestly, is never perfect. We practice being truthful without harming others the same way we practice balancing in tree pose–over and over again, without judging, without competing, and with heartfelt kindness. It’s a lifetime journey.

A guide to the philosophical principles of yoga.