Since being reintroduced to the eightfold path, I find that I have been practicing some of its elements without realizing it. This is the third of six columns devoted to exploring their value in today’s world.
Aparigraha (“You shall not hoard” or “You shall not covet”). Hoarding (or coveting what one doesn’t need) shows poverty of spirit and indicates one does not have faith in God (Goddess or Great Spirit). The net result of practicing aparigraha is a life of simplicity with only those things one needs immediately close at hand, trusting that when one needs something it will become available. This can be a real challenge in our culture of consumerism.
A colleague of mine spoke about a bottle of Worcestershire sauce that he bought to replace an empty one, and how he somehow kept putting off opening the new bottle. This went on for weeks until he looked at the bottle in the cupboard and asked himself why he was saving it. He owned the condiment, but by not opening it he lost the benefit of having it. I realized I was doing the same with a bottle of real maple syrup.
I am also tempted to hoard when I come across something with the flavor of a by-gone age for the historical value.
The truth is that holding onto or coveting things (or condiments) of any kind puts a burden on spirit. Even stored neatly away, things clutter life up. Getting rid of excess belongings (as suggested by both spiritual teachers and interior designers) is literally lightening your load in life.
Niyamas are behaviors and ways of being in the world (virtues) that are valuable to cultivate within ourselves. There are five of them just as there are five yamas.
Saucha (purity of the body) is the first niyama. Saucha combines the poses and breathing exercises of hatha yoga with dietary practices and keeping the body clean inside and out. Saucha is considered essential for physical health. Some of the physical cleansing practices are alien and a little scary (like swallowing 15 feet of damp fabric and pulling it out again). Others have been proven by Western science to be highly effective in protecting the practitioner from illness (like rinsing the nasal passages with salty water).
Symbolically, when we wash away the dirt of the world, we are washing away worldliness itself and saying we are ready to turn our minds and hearts to something higher. We are showing ourselves to be open to enlightenment, and we feel lighter.
Wiccan ceremonies often begin with a bathing ritual. In Catholic churches, congregants dip their hands into holy water before entering. The baptism ceremony in many Christian denominations is all about washing away the past and going forward with a more spiritual consciousness.