Born and raised a Jersey Girl, my heart goes out to the people of my home state at this time of devastation. Summers at the shore were when my favorite memories were made, so when I discovered that our home there had been flooded, I was crestfallen. To drive down our street in Manasquan and see the contents of my neighbor’s houses strewn across the sidewalks, and then watch my own possessions pile up beside theirs, encouraged me to mediate on all the stuff we hold onto. (I’m not talking about life’s necessities, it’s absolutely tragic what so many people have lost, and I would never think otherwise, what I’m talking about here is a personal lesson I learned from losing so much, yet realizing how much of it I didn’t need.)
Most spiritual traditions encourage simple living; yoga included. In fact, one of the moral precepts on the yogic path is aparigraha, often translated as “greedlessness.” The struggle I find that most people have is, when does need become excess? We all have a need for basic necesseties, but after finding 3 can openers in a flooded drawer, I questioned the excess many of us live with. If you don’t use it monthly, or it doesn’t make you smile every time you look at it, ask yourself why it’s taking up space.
One Yoga master, T.K Desikachar, describes our overabundance of stuff brilliantly:
“The more we have, the more we need to take care of it. The time and energy spent on acquiring more things, protecting them, maintaining, and worrying about them, is time that can’t be spent on things that bring us joy.”
However, it’s difficult to let go; we live in a culture where we’re taught to hoard and save for a rainy day. As I went through room after room, and saw piles of stuff that had been floating in 4 feet of water, my sadness was countered by an undesired sense of freedom from my loss. I did lose many personal effects that meant a great deal to me, but now those memories live on as treasured moments in my mind’s eye.
But aside from that, I questioned how much I really need, beyond the essentials. If I’d had cleaned out my closet before the waters washed my clothes to an unusable salty froth, surely a donation to “Dress for Success” would have been welcomed.
It made me take pause to reduce my material possessions to the things “I really need,” which in turn would leave space for more joy; whether it’s things that truly make me smile when I use them, or more time spent with my family. Yoga has helped me realize that there is a huge difference between needing and wanting something. When I found items that could still be used, they immediately went into the donation box.
“Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.” Mark Twain
There are times we may buy something because we think it will make us happy. The problem is, if we’re going to be happy by getting things, then we’re going to be sad by losing things. If you buy the latest IT bag because you think it will make you happy, then what happens if you lose it? Yoga teaches us that we don’t need any “thing” to make us happy; however, I’ll sneak in- any “thing other than food, shelter, clothing and of course those we love.” If you or someone you love is in need of these basic necessities, then don’t hesitate to reach out for help- there are thousands of people still waiting to support you at this time. In fact, I just taught a Hurricane Relief yoga class, and donated all the money we earned to the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation- they’re helping residents rebuild, and feeding them along the way.
The Buddha pointed out that, “Our only real possessions are our actions.” If you aren’t preoccupied with having more stuff, you’ll have more time to concentrate on taking action to serve others; and believe me, that’s where true joy comes from. Whether it’s texting the Red Cross, taking in a friend, or serving hot meals to those who are misplaced, each action fills not only the hearts of those served, but also your own. There is still so much work to be done, and thousands of people who still “Can’t Go Home.”
Inspire others to pitch in, by sharing below, what action you’ve taken to help someone affected by Hurricane Sandy. Or you can go here to donate to the other BOSS in our state: http://www.jonbonjovisoulfoundation.org/
PS- As a Jersey Girl, and therefore avid Bon Jovi fan,
I was happy to see this picture survived the box under my water-logged bed! (Don’t mind the hair, it was 1986!)