I remarked to a friend over the weekend that I guess this year was meant to teach me Aparigraha and Bramacharya; cultivating the art of patience, restraint, letting go, and finding the exit (gift shop optional) in the murky darkness.
I’ve spent the last decade-plus, really beginning another lifetime ago, studying yoga. Its physical and philosophical practices have helped me stay the course, diverge from it when required, and get back to simple truths when the world seems like a cattywampus collection of expletives in any number of tongues, forked.
And so, when the gods of absurd realities pushed me down a hill this summer, summarily fracturing what was left of my spirit along with my left shoulder, I had to draw upon the internal yoga while forgoing the physical branch; a practice in itself of trying to stay within a fine line of sane.
Patanjali sprouted the practice of Yoga into 8 limbs, each branch representing different aspects of being and doing, and how we relate its energy (and our own) to the inner and outer world. Climbing the tree, as it were, is more difficult, I’ve realised, with one (literal) limb severely compromised. And so one must rely on one’s other faculties and strengths to get through the fireswamp of strange times, disregarding the viscosity of the lightning sand.
This has been a year of loss for me: companionship, connections, freedoms, adventures, mobility, agility, strength, hugs. And with it all went intention and focus.
But over these years of study and practice, I’ve taken Patanjali’s recipes and applied some spices (in the form of my own interpretation and application), and made use of these concoctions in my day-to-day existence. The first limb, according to Patanjali, is the Yamas, of which Aparigraha and Bramacharya are two. These are mores, if you will, that he invites us to use in dealing with the outside world:
· Satya: Truth; honour, honesty
· Asteya: Non-stealing; integrity
· Ahimsa: Non-harming; care, kindness
· Aparigraha: Non-clinging; letting go of what doesn’t serve
· Bramacharya: Chastity; restraint, simplicity, right actions
The first three are relatively easy: be good, be kind, be fair, be honest, be empathetic. The last two are the doozies: be accountable, let go, don’t get attached to outcomes, show restraint, use your energy for good, don’t overindulge.
And so, coming face-to-face with the last remaining month of this unrelenting shitstorm of a year whose intention, it seems, was to blot out everyone else’s, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learnt and what I can scrape from its embers and repurpose. If this was a year to learn about resilience and inner strength, recruiting Aparigraha and Bramacharya (the irony of the double-entendre of the latter not lost) were its instructional objectives.
Since the adventuring and the writing and the hiking and the climbing and the immersing (and the joy of it all) were not to be this year, I need to let go of what isn’t or can’t or hasn’t or couldn’t (in hindsight: none of it could), and open more to the simplicity of what is. Still. I’m not quite there yet. And as much as I know deep down that the pure, immediate, simple, naked present is all we actually have, it is a grim notion to live without hard yearning for those joy-filled things in the before-times.
What doesn’t serve is the concept that what was will remain intact, and that what we have will last, or what we take for granted will persist. It is — we are — merely tiny scraps of stardust bodged together with cosmic crazy glue and dumb luck, after all.
So what comes next?
Baby steps, I think. Embracing the simplicity of today, without its bells and whistles. Revelling in the natural world. Learning from what’s in the immediate. Making art with what’s at hand. Cherishing the things that enable us to make eye (or heart) contact when we can’t hug. Sneaking a hug when absolutely needed. I miss hugging. Finishing what we’ve started and put aside. Putting aside what we’ve picked up to fill the hours. Grieving, healing, stretching, strengthening, moving, resting. In not necessarily equal measures.
Aparigraha and Bramacharya as teachers. Letting go of outcomes and embracing the simplicity of the present moment, no more, no less.
I’ll close with a glimmer of hope: I’ve been able to sleep through the night without pain. And what’s more, I’ve taken some yoga classes — some I’ve even completed without feeling utterly helpless and broken. I’m able to lift the big lens and have been rewarded with some magical bird sightings. I’ve been able to write a thing or two, and have re-committed to re-engaging with the big thing in the coming weeks.
If glimmers of hope-laden stardust become like splodges of glitter that get stuck everywhere, I think that’s okay-ish in this case: we need some hope. We need something to look forward to. We need to know that we really are all in this together. The small daily multi-flavoured wins have got to add up to a cornucopia of opportunities when the world opens its windows (and doors). And maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop the corny cooking metaphors if someone will clean the kitchen after I’m through.