Happiness is an Inside Job
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Cuba and the Art of Aparigraha
Want to know the secret to happiness? It's an inside job, and the Cuban people have it all figured out. Yoga is EVERYWHERE in Cuba, even if not in asana form. The Cuban people have perfected the practice of aparigraha, or non-attachment.
As a yoga teacher and teacher trainer, I have studied the sutras and yoga philosophy for years. I remember being introduced to the Yamas and Niyamas in my very first teacher training and feeling very confused about aparigraha, or non-attachment. It seemed too harsh. How can I NOT be attached to my husband? My dogs? I struggled with this idea for the whole training, and well beyond.
While I have eventually intellectually understood this Yama, spiritual practice, my recent visit to Cuba finally helped me understand it in my heart.
Photo by Elie Dahdouh @heartofcuba
The Cuban people know that material things can disappear at any time. The embargo against Cuba means that scarcity is common. If Cubans can't make it, grow it, or fix it, it could disappear at any time. Food can be scarce (the embargo has caused some interesting unintended consequences). If something breaks and you can’t fix it, you can't always replace it. Nothing is permanent. People leave. Before the Obama administration helped relax visitation to Cuba, family members who immigrated to the United States were just GONE, often without any idea when you would ever see them again (visiting Cuba to see family is now legal and encouraged. Cubans are still not allowed to visit relatives living abroad).
While the lesson of non-attachment has been forced on the Cuban people by circumstance and government policy, the result is beautiful. People take care of their things and they take care of each other. The abundance of classic cars is a prime example. Every classic car owner I met was proud of their car, happy to share it (and let us take photographs on and in it!) and intensely full of gratitude for the blessing. It's a sharp contrast to the consumerism at home-- most of us take these things for granted. In Cuba, nothing is taken for granted, and nothing is attached to happiness.
Photo by Elie Dahdouh @heartofcuba
Rosbel Alpí Garcia, known as Alpí, is an art critic, travel guide, and part of the Mhai Yoga team. Alpí is a great tour guide (I have already referred friends to him) and is proud of his heritage, his country and his people. As Alpí says, Cubans live their passingly differently. Fully. He says it better than I do.
So the secret to happiness? In Cuba, life is for LIVING. Colors are vibrant. Music and dancing are plentiful. Smiling is contagious. Life is happening NOW… not in the future, and certainly not in the past. The Cuban people live their passions.
Nothing is perfect. Life in Cuba can be challenging. There is a saying here, "no es fácil" or "it's not easy." A sassy Cuban will respond, "pero tampoco es difícil." It's not hard either. Happiness is a choice.
The Cuban people have learned what we strive so hard for in yoga–– to separate their spirit from the material world. Attachment causes suffering, and aparigraha will set you free. In this practice of non-attachment, Cubans have achieved one of the highest goals of yoga –– bliss.
I visited Mhai Yoga in February 2018 as a guest during press week. Thank you to the generosity of Coco Dahdouh, Eduardo Pimentel, and the Mhai Yoga team for gifting me this life-changing and amazing experience! I am filled with gratitude and can't wait to return to Cuba with my tribe. Our next retreat is April 28-25,2020 Email me for info.