When Less is More

Make more time for doing the things you love by simplifying your life.

By Helena Echlin (originated posted here in Yoga Journal)

simple flower arrangementJudy Davis never buys anything new if she can help it. A 58-year-old freelance marketing consultant who lives in Red Bluff, California, she favors thrift store clothing and secondhand furniture. Instead of buying gifts, she gives plants from her garden or bags she has sewn from cut-up vintage gowns. Judy is part of a Bay Area group called the Compact. The Compacters have vowed not to buy anything new for a year except bare essentials: food, medicine, cleaning products, and underwear (although not, of course, lingerie from Paris). Although few people take frugality quite as seriously as the Compacters do, more and more of us are voluntarily cutting back on buying and consumption. Many individuals choosing this lifestyle happen to be yogis. The seminal work of yoga philosophyPatanjali’s Yoga Sutra, frowns on materialism, and some yogis find that their asana practice alone helps them be happier with less.

The pursuit of the simple life is nothing new, of course. From Quakers to Transcendentalists, America has always had its share of those who associate simplicity with spiritual growth. Back-to-the-land hippies of the ’60s and ’70s found simplicity appealing for more secular reasons, such as ecological sustainability. But those who practice pared-down living today are not necessarily spiritual ascetics or off-the-grid granola types. Most are ordinary people modifying their everyday behavior-trying to be conscious about what they eat, drive, and buy.

In the past 15 years, “voluntary simplicity,” as it is called, has gained thousands of converts. Many books on the subject have been published, such as Janet Luhrs’s The Simple Living Guide, Cecile Andrews’s Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, and Linda Breen Pierce’sChoosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World. Dozens of websites have sprung up, and nonprofits like Seeds of Simplicity and Simple Living America champion the cause. When the Compacters publicized their manifesto in January 2006, their Yahoo group swelled from about 50 in February to 1,225 in July, with members across America.

Most spiritual traditions encourage simple living, and yoga is no exception. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali< laid out the yamas (moral restraints) and niyamas (observances), a set of 10 principles that are crucial to one’s progress along the yogic path. One of the yamas is aparigraha, often translated as “greedlessness.” But it means more than just taking only what you need, explains David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and author of Yoga and the Sacred Fire. Aparigraha also means “not having a lot of unnecessary things around yourself and not hankering after what other people have,” Frawley says. In other words, aparigraha also means keeping only what you need and wanting only what you need.

Read more here.

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Does Spiritual Practice need to follow a system?

By Richard Rosen  (originally posted here in Yoga Journal)

Yoga poseOften in spiritual literature, you’ll find the image of a boat used to symbolize the spiritual path.

The reasoning runs like this: Just as a boat is used to cross a river and is then left behind once the far shore is reached, so too is a spiritual system used to cross the “river” of self-ignorance and then abandoned when self-realization is achieved. Spiritual practice is a means to an end.

“We are having to learn [spirituality] by prescription, because we are not sensitive to whatever is natural in us,” says Swami Veda Bharati, author of a detailed commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Once you recognize your authentic Self, he notes, the “whole yoga practice will come to you.” At that moment, we no longer need the system and can “throw it away.” We can sail on, in other words, without our boat.

There are some teachers who pooh-pooh the idea of a specific spiritual process altogether. The late Indian sage J. Krishnamurti, for example, uttered the famous dictum “Truth is a pathless land.” These teachers maintain that a system—any system—is actually an impediment to a successful river crossing. Why? Because each one—no matter how comprehensive at first glance—is inherently limited. When we’re looking at the world from the deck of any spiritual boat, we’re seeing only the view it affords us and not the fullness of what’s really there.

But many teachers are in favor of a system, especially for beginners. It’s like a map to an unfamiliar city, they say—without it, we’d wander around lost and confused. An established process shows us where we are and where we want to go. It points us in the right direction and may indicate some of the detours and dead ends we may encounter along the way. Just as a map tracks bus routes, a spiritual system gives us the means—by way of a time-tested set of practices—to arrive at our hoped-for destination.

So does a system have value or doesn’t it? Tradition has an answer. In the early stages of spiritual practice, some kind of procedure is most certainly indispensable. As our practice progresses, as Bharati notes, we learn to listen to and trust our own inner voice. Then a system becomes less essential. In the end, all systems drop away—we step out of the boat—and we continue our journey “without means” (anupaya), in the realization of our authentic Self.

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