What would be the hardest thing for you to live without? I often hear people say things like ‘I could never give up coffee’ or ‘I could never live without cheese’ ‘I could never let my hair go gray’. And I always want to say, ‘Yes, you can. You just choose not to.’
I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of giving things up for a while, and the feeling of power that I get when I am successful. When I was a kid, I had Catholic cousins. They lived out in the suburbs and would come down to my grandmother’s house in Newark for Sunday dinners. On Sundays in the early spring, they would talk about how they couldn’t eat candy or chocolate because they had given it up for lent. I suddenly felt that I was committing some sort of sin by eating dessert! I was jealous of this game that they, and most of the kids in my neighborhood, were playing without me, and I wanted to play along. I wanted to share in their suffering. I wanted to give something up!
In a couple of weeks I’ll be going on a 6 day silent meditation retreat and I will be giving up almost everything. I’ll have a suitcase full of comfy clothes and fragrance-free toiletries with me, but nothing else.
For 6 days I’ll have no contact with my family. I won’t have my cell phone or laptop. I won’t have any junk food. There will be no talking, no reading, no writing, no laughter, no music! Nothing but meditation and sleep. There will be no pressing issues, no obligations, no worries, no to-do lists, no stressors. Nothing but mindfully living in each moment.
One of the five essential restraints (yamas) of yoga is aparigraha, non-attachment. This is the practice of not holding tightly to anything at all, and knowing the impermanent nature of everything. Nothing lasts forever, and there is nothing aside from food, clothing, shelter (and love) that we can’t live without. I firmly believe that every so often we should try to live without the things we believe to be essential. We may find out that they are not so necessary after all.
The more things (objects, habits, beliefs) we try to hold onto, the greater hold those very things will have over us. Just like Chuck Palahniuk says in Fight Club, ‘The more things you own, the more they own you.’ Soon I will find out just how tightly some things have been holding me, and just how hard it is to live without them.
What is it that you can’t live without?