It might sound like a bit of a tired metaphor, but have you ever tried to hold water in your hand? Water takes the shape of whatever it's in; except for your hand. When you try to hold water in a hand, it finds the easiest path of escape and runs away, and the harder you try the more it runs.
This is not a post about loving something so you let it go. But I have been wondering why I hold on to some things.
One of the things I've learned about myself recently is how often I worry about having enough. It is, in a sense, a kind of holdover from the poverty my parents grew up in. Each of them was raised in stomach-cramping poverty that they have worked so hard to distance themselves from: because my father lives with a fear of never having enough, finds it difficult to splurge, or even spend. He keeps things that are long worn out and should be replaced, he buys generic whenever he can: my mother use to rail at him about how cheap she thought he was. My mother, also not far from this fear of lean and want, is the big spender. Generous to a fault, she buys all the things, and surrounds herself and others with them. Her delight and pursuit of the finer things often strayed into opulence.
I watched the two of them each battle with the same fear and ameliorate it in different ways. In addition, I've written before about feeling the feelings, well my mom is the Queen of The Feels. With all of her big, charming, sometimes delightful sometimes terrifying energy around, there wasn't a lot of space for me. So between the education of how to deal with the fear of poverty, and feeling always squeezed out by dealing with my mom, I too, have been powerfully motivated by the fear of not having enough.
Rather than stuff, I fear that there isn't enough space for me. Don't get me wrong: I like stuff. I try only to acquire the stuff I really need, but I have expensive taste--just ask my partner--so the stuff I need is good stuff. My fear of a lack of space translates into lots of different feelings: my whole life people have been telling me I'm too loud, and I fear there's not enough space for me to be myself; (sidebar: I have no time for this feedback anymore. I get it a lot from men, even when I am behaving in a way that is entirely appropriate given the situation, and after deep reflection, I recognize it as racist misogyny, and I don't accept it.) when someone I want to spend time with me is too busy, I fear there isn't enough space for me in their life, and I'm not getting the attention that I need; when I feel set apart or excluded, suddenly I'm back in high school, panicked that there isn't enough space for me at the cool kids' table, and I'll have to eat lunch all by myself.
So based on this fear of not having enough space, I clutch and grab onto whatever I can: my relationships, my abilities, my work, the way I show up in the world. Suddenly the stakes become very high and I get attached to all the places where I be and do. Recently, I found myself back down that rabbit hole. Rather than continue to get all clutchy and wounded and defensive, I stopped, and asked myself, Jess, what is it you really need? Why are you looking for it in places and people incapable of giving it to you? And how can you provide it for yourself? I remembered my history of growing up with two parents who were seized with such a fear that caused them to clutch and grip. But rather that rest in that historical pattern, I remembered that my life is m own now, that I can choose not to be bound by old samskaras or ways that others have defined me in the past.
Additionally, the word aparigraha lifted up in my mind. It's one of the yamas, often overlooked, and I've frequently seen it translated as non-greediness or greedlessness. Typically, when I think about greed, I think about a tight-fisted wealthy king, an archetype from a European folk tale, or some of the Wall Street thieves who have stolen and lied to amass wealth I can't even think about. But in this context, non-grasping--one particular translation of aparigraha--began to make a lot of sense to me.
I started to feel like this fear of enough--enough attention, enough space, enough room to do my life with the people and in the way that suits me--was me just clinging to water. The truth is, I can provide myself with more care and attention than anyone else, and it's probably right for me to: I have a better sense than my doctor about what's normal for my body, I know better than my partner what I should eat or when I need to go to sleep, and I know better than my community how to befriend and care for myself. Hoping that others will recognize or divine these qualities is a waste of time and energy. If I'm lucky, some of the folks in my life will want to learn these things from me, but otherwise, I'm in charge of my own care and healing, and as best I can, the Universe and I are the ones who make sure I have enough.
I think this is a really common fear. I think many of us walk the earth in a state of over-grasping, afraid there isn't enough for us: we drive recklessly because we think the other drivers on the road are trying to rob us of time; we cut in front of others out of fear of a shortage of resources; we're rude to strangers, unkind, downright cruel even, because we feel threatened by a lack of space; we deny people access to what we feel is ours and ours alone, we erect false borders, because we feel hurt and threatened and we have to undo some loss or injury done to us.
I think, though, that we don't have to take from others in order to feel we have enough. It's true that I have actively had to repress the urge to literally fling my body into others in order to back them out of space that I felt was mine. I really hate feeling crowded. But I never feel great about this; I want to share, I want not to act belligerently, demanding space of my own that I feel free in. Sharing is hard, though, because it almost always seems to mean offering what we have from our own plate, and we seem to be sharing with others who take and take without consideration or discrimination. It requires a level of trust in dealing with others, who almost always show themselves to be unworthy of, and who ultimately can't help exploiting, that trust.
This non-grasping is not easy work. Most of us don't want to only use what we need and not more. Because it's so difficult, we call it consolidating resources, setting boundaries, even patriotism: framing it this way sounds like we're doing something good for us, rather than holding them at bay. Still, at the end of the day, all the money, the food, the shoes, the space--we can't take those things into whatever realm waits once our life on Earth ends, and if we're hording out of fear (because frankly why else would you take more than you need), whatever we gather is tainted by that fear, and ultimately not nourishing anyway.
Matthew Remski translates aparigraha as self-possession. He writes, "The kind of grasping we would most discourage would be that which arises from compensatory psychological need." He also says something about desire that I've never conceived of: "... I affirm the nature of desire as an intrinsic catalyst of growth and learning, but gently limit its scope to the field of self-responsibility." Desire seldom seems like a catalyst of growth for me; instead it seems more like an analgesic: I want this thing/person/experience/reality so bad because I feel like shit, and when I have it/them, I won't feel so shitty anymore. Which absolutely is a psychological compensation. But I love the word self-possession, because it creates the opportunity for each of us to consider our limitations, and how we'd get what we needed if we didn't have to take it from someone or something else.
Right now, this is a pretty big hurdle for me. I don't see it as a mountain that I have to scale, and I don't imagine I'll ever have conquered it. But it does feel like a practice that requires me to look closely and critically at how (and why) I'm doing life, and try to allow my needs to be contained by my own abilities, rather than always reaching reaching reaching.