Change is the only constant thing we can expect in life.
The rain was coming down heavy that morning. It was a Saturday, and I sat on my living room rug doing some journaling before starting the day. All of a sudden, an overwhelming sense of sadness washed over me. You see, about a month prior, a handful of my closest friends moved to different cities, hundreds of miles away.
It hit me like a ton of bricks: they were gone. It finally sunk in that I could no longer meet up with them for a quick coffee, a sweaty yoga class or hang out in our PJs together with takeout and a bottle of wine. They had been like a warm blanket that I had wrapped around myself, only now that blanket was gone. I felt stranded and alone.
For the first time since they’d moved, I didn’t try and resist the emotions that were welling up inside of me. Instead, I allowed myself to truly feel their absence, which, if I’m honest, involved a lot of ugly crying.
On that Saturday morning (after ugly crying my little heart out), I sat in my living room, my hands outstretched on my lap, and I asked for help, to move through my sadness and to find peace in my friends’ absence. My thoughts turned to the yogic practice of aparigraha, or non-attachment. Non-attachment teaches us to rely less on external factors and more on our internal selves to be at peace and happy in our lives.
The solution seemed simple: If I could practice non-attachment in moments when I’m overcome with sadness or when I’m simply missing my friends, I could move towards less pain and more joy.
Okay, so what is Aparigraha?
Aparigraha translates to non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. It is the last of the five yamas – or moral guidelines – in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Patanjali – and many sages over the years – explains that we humans are attached to the feelings of what things (think possessions or money) or people give us, not the things or people themselves. Aparigraha teaches us to be conscious about what we are feeling at any given moment in our lives and to let go when the time is right.
We will always wrestle with uncomfortable emotions – such is life. But by appreciating what we’re feeling while staying in the present moment, we can embrace our emotions for what they give us – compassion, growth, understanding – and let go with peace and stillness in our hearts.
Here’s the reality check: Practicing non-attachment isn’t easy. It takes time and patience, but it does get easier with practice. So, here are some aparigraha techniques to try that have helped me when I’m feeling extra lonely:
1. Understand the ego behind attachment
Attachment comes from the ego, which craves things and wants, wants, wants. When we see something we like, or we feel good around certain people, our ego attaches either a “good” or “bad” label to that thing or person. But therein lies the rub: When we label things as “good” or “bad,” we invite desire into the equation, which leads to attachment, and the ego then convinces us that the thing or person is “ours.”
When we understand the ego’s role behind attachment, we can create a sense of awareness, realizing that nothing is ever truly “ours.” There’s something so beautiful and simple about that. Letting the moment be what it is without clinging to it or pushing it away, we can really say we’re living in that moment, allowing things to come and go, without the need to possess any of it.
2. Feel emotions without judgment or resistance
So often we resist feeling sad or alone or angry. These “negative” emotions are uncomfortable to sit with, and so we fight back and avoid them. But in order to know joy, we must know despair. Happiness and joy are important, but so is sadness and loss, my friends.
I truly believe that letting yourself have a good cry sesh each week (or as needed!) is like putting a healing balm on a wound. A good cry does wonders, and in my experience, I almost ALWAYS feel better afterward.
Getting back to the concept that nothing is ever truly “ours,” the same can be applied to our emotions. When we allow ourselves to feel each moment with the full presence of being, we move through it, knowing that the moment will pass. Once we fully feel our emotions, we can then let them go and move onward.
3. You can be attached to pretty much anything, including your feelings
While yes, it’s absolutely important to truly feel your emotions and whatever is going on inside, it’s also important to realize that it’s not just people or possessions that we can become attached to. We can be attached to our feelings, too.
This was a big Aha! moment for me, because it ultimately puts the onus on me. Yes, I was feeling attached to my friends who I dearly missed, but I was also attached to feeling sad and left behind. When we’re only thinking of ourselves and what we’re feeling, we give way to selfishness and greed, which is exactly what the ego feeds off of. Here’s where practicing compassion and selflessness can keep our egos at bay. Rather than remaining fixated on “I feel this way,” think about what the other person may be feeling. They may be feeling lost or ungrounded or anxious or sad, so send them love and healing energy. Practicing compassion will get you outside of yourself (and outside of that pesky ego), and will cultivate feelings of oneness that are so powerful.
If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed by loneliness, meditation helps to calm me down, stay present, and move forward with good intentions for myself and others. Our attachments are created and fueled by our thoughts, and when we meditate, we allow those thoughts to dissolve, and we can devote ourselves to just being.
Here’s a loving-kindness meditation that I started practicing when I’m missing someone dear to me, and I want to send them love:
Sit in a comfortable seat with your eyes closed. Your hands can be outstretched on your knees, palms facing the sky, or they can be gently clasped in your lap.
Concentrate on your breath for a few moments, paying attention to each inhale and exhale.
Picture in your mind the person you are missing, imagine them sitting right in front of you.
Now, envision yourself sending love and compassion out to them. Imagine this love and compassion having a warm glow, and you’re encasing this person in that glow of pure loving kindness.
Continue for as long as you like, or when you feel calm and at peace. When you’re ready, slowly come back to your breath, and open your eyes.
Write down five reasons why you’re grateful for that person. It could be aspects of their personality that you appreciate and love, or memories that are super special to you. In fact, why stop there?! Start a gratitude journal – it’s huge right now, and there are a ton of cute journals out there to get you started. A friend of mine recently gifted me the Five Minute Journal, and I love starting and ending my day with moments of gratitude. I find that on the days when I write down the things I’m grateful for, I have a much more positive mindset throughout the day and, well, I just feel happier.
I’ll say it: gratitude may just be the best medicine for our aching hearts.
Write them a letter, describing all the ways in which you are grateful for them and their friendship. Whether you send it to them or not can be your choice; I like handwriting the letter and mailing it (yes, the actual mail). Think about the last time you got a letter in the mail. Didn’t it make you feel incredibly special? As it turns out, researchers have found that both the recipient and the person writing the letter reap the same benefits, so it’s a win-win!
Give them a call. Shocker, I know! But seriously, if you miss a person, pick up the phone and dial their number, or if you can’t chat right away, shoot them a text. That little bit of connection will give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Try it, it works.
I’ll always miss my friends who no longer live close by. But how I perceive this loss is where I can detach myself from feelings of sadness and loneliness and instead turn to compassion and gratitude. As humans, we’re always changing; in fact, change is the only constant thing we can expect in life. But by practicing aparigraha, we can embrace change, move through it, and make it to the other side.