Friday, November 14, 2008

Aparigraha/ balance the two efforts

Aparigraha, often translated as non-grasping, is the fifth of the yamas (ethical practices listed by Patanjali). "Grasping" here refers to clinging or attachment: to people, possessions, dreams, ideas, expectations. You can read an interesting perspective on the practice of aparigraha here. The trick, as described by this writer, is not to reject yourself or others, but rather to experience fully without clinging to your experiences or your perceptions of them.

Those who know me personally know that I have suffered some loss recently, including the death of my grandmother, the departure of friends, and the end of a long-term relationship. Grief and sadness are pretty normal in these situations. Grief and sadness pass with time; however, I think that loss can be a gateway to long-term suffering if we choose to cling too much to the past or to our expectations of the future. The ability to let go and trust the flow of life is essential to happiness and inner peace. Clinging to the way things were could make you miss a beautiful future opportunity. The same goes for clinging to the way things "are supposed to be".

This is always a difficult precept to apply. "Letting go" is different from not caring or pushing away. In Awake at Work, Michael Carroll introduces a slogan that he calls "balance the two efforts". This means to balance "the effort to get somewhere with that of being where we are completely," which he suggests makes up "the core competency of being awake at work" (p. 31). This seems to me to be closely tied to the practice of aparigraha. By letting go, we are suspending our self-talk and personal stories to simply observe what is happening, allowing us to be "available to our immediate circumstances" (p. 28). This gives us the alertness and access to our own instincts which is essential to optimal job performance. This concept of letting go of thoughts and opening to grace and awareness is probably very familiar to performers and Olympic athletes, but maybe less familiar to the average working person. Nonetheless, it is an essential skill for all of us.

In my own work, I definitely struggle with this concept on a daily basis. I am responsible for so many different things, and the day sometimes flies by as a serious of crises and loose ends. When I have a student in tears at my desk, angry letters from agents in my email, piles of documents demanding attention in my inbox, a deadline for exam entries looming, missing paperwork, and a pile of school assignments waiting for me at home, it is extremely difficult to let go and just be. I often find that an entire day has passed without me taking the time to quiet my thoughts and observe my instincts before taking action.

Carroll suggests that when we let go, "irritations that we may easily dismiss - the predictably late report, the sullen receptionist, the unresponsive customer - become reminders to pay attention" (p. 30). Indeed, I find that the times that I do remember to let go and give something my full attention, I am usually invited to do so because someone else's crisis is greater than my own. Sometimes, another person's pain or frustration jolts me out of my thoughts to a place where I can listen to them, observe, and react from a place of compassion. At these moments, I find that I have the skill to deal with incredibly difficult situations with finesse ~ and it is almost like another force is steering me, choosing the words to say and the actions to take. At these moments, I love what I do.

I would like to learn to respond to my own crises with equal compassion. Again, Carroll suggests sitting meditation. My own practice made it two days after my last post before it got buried in the rush to do, do, do. I need to begin again today.

It seems like the International Education field is in need of people who know how to let go and pay attention. When working with other cultures and language barriers, instinct and compassion are essential to diffuse tension and avoid conflict and misunderstanding. We need to develop a sixth sense and look below the surface of our daily interactions. Maybe everyone does. When I take the time to slow down, I communicate better and I attain better results.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to cling to my past experiences with people, and respond to them from a place where assumptions are made according to past baggage. The worst is when I judge an interaction based on previous experiences with other people from the same culture. Sometimes I am surprised to find that a person is not speaking from the point of view I expected. I would like to work on letting go of conflicts, insults and misunderstandings that occur in the workplace, and allowing each individual situation and interaction to unfold independently of past experience.

Balance the two efforts. Let go. Meditate. Just be.


elle said...

Thank you for this one - I will keep thinking about it. And I will try to remind myself to respond to my own crises with compassion (or to respond to myself with compassion, crisis or not).

Now if only I could also let go of others' expectations of what a literature review is 'supposed to be'! ;)

Paida said...

Yep, you have had quite a fall.

The things you write about are so interesting to me. Very different things than I am used to contemplating.

As I approach 40 it is amazing to me how long people, myself included, can hold on to things. Not just for year, but decades.

Getting rid of that baggage and "letting go" is not easy - but it sure makes life a lot easier.