I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stuff.
Not stuff as in, life, but things. The material goods (some not so good) around us. Things we need, things we use, things we collect, things that entertain us, things that accumulate and fill our homes and storage spaces. You know, stuff.
Last week I fell down an internet rabbit hole that led me to The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. These dudes were living The American Dream: six-figure salaries in big career-path jobs, big homes, lots of stuff. By our cultural standards, they had it made.
Yet they discovered they weren’t all that happy. It’s amazing they had the space to make this discovery at all, given how fast-paced their lives were. But tragedy can be a teacher; when Joshua’s mother died and his marriage ended in the same month, he took the opportunity to look closely at his life and reevaluate. (Value being the operative part of that word: looking at what brings us value.)
What he saw was a lot of stuff.
In their book Everything That Remains, a memoir of how Joshua and Ryan embraced Minimalism—paring down to only the things they need—Joshua explores in lyrical detail how the stuff in his life was doing more than just not making him happy. It was restricting his freedom.
He explains fully in the book, which I highly recommend; it’s a deeply emotional read, as well as a fine prescriptive, inspirational memoir. What he wrote got me thinking about some of my stuff, and why I buy it.
I’m addicted to books. As an author, I’m also an avid reader. Or… I was. When I was growing up, I read constantly, at least a book a week, sometimes more.
In my adult life, I don’t read as often. Yet I seem to have more books than ever. I find a book I can’t wait to read, and I start to read it—then I find another one, and I get it. (I hear this happens to lots of book lovers, this accumulation-before-finishing thing.)
What I realized while reading The Minimalists’s book—yes, another accumulation, but at least it was the ebook, so it wasn’t taking up space—was that my book-buying binges are fueled by fear. A subtle anxiety about my own books that manifests into a combination of vicarious living and palliative accumulation. I’m reading other authors’ books, and buying them to soothe myself.
This is also why people buy what are essentially sugar- and fat-filled milkshakes with a shot of coffee in them, cigarettes, snacks, and lots of stuff: It makes them feel better.
This isn’t new. Ancient Yogis saw people hoarding food, cattle, supplies, and still wanting more—more things, but really, more out of life. (Back then, hoarding was more a matter of staving off hunger in lean times, though even within that context, some took it to an extreme.) Hoarding and palliative accumulation was pervasive enough that the Yogic sages created a way to deal with it: Aparigraha, or Non-Hoarding.
Aparigraha is the principle of Enough. It’s a way of compassionately confronting your own fear of lack—technical lack, but also imagined, worst-case-scenario, bag-lady-on-the-street lack, and perceived lack, like not being good enough. It’s a way of knowing you have enough, and you are enough. I will hazard a guess that you are more than enough and just don’t know it.
But you can. With the Yoga Tool of Aparigraha, you can know the serenity and peace of Enough. You can feel good about what you are, which leads to feeling good about what you have. And that can lead to seeing you don’t need as much as you think.
I’ll go into more of how this is done in tomorrow’s blog. For now, the first and most important component of reducing stuff in your life is reducing stress. And that’s as easy as breathing.
A specific kind of breathing: Deergha Swasaam Pranayama, or Deep 3-Part Breathing Practice.
We cannot take appropriate action when we’re in fear. Fear is a smoke alarm, trying to draw our attention to a problem. When we’re calmer, we can take appropriate action. That’s why we begin with breathing. Deergha Swasaam, this deeper, calmer, three-part breathing practice, lowers the stress response in your body and mind.
Instructions for Deergha Swasaam are here. Each morning, before you get out of bed, do a few stretches to limber up your joints. Then, sitting up tall, do a few rounds of Deergha Swasaam. Sync your breathing with this Mantra, which you can repeat to yourself silently:
As you inhale: I have enough
As you exhale: I am enough.
Repeat for a few rounds. Let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. You can repeat the breathing practice, and the Mantra, throughout your day, whenever you need to.
See you back here on the blog for more of how to reduce stress, and the stuff in your life, with Aparigraha.