Santosha | How Contentment Can Radically Change Our Lives

Welcome back to the yamas and niyamas series after a little break. We're moving right along, and this week Santosha is up. Santosha means contentment in Sanskrit and asks us to take refuge within a calm center. 

In order to practice contentment, we have to move towards opening our heart to gratitude for what we have in this current moment. We are asked to be thankful and practice not seeking.

Contentment is falling in love with your life.
— Swami Rama

The Pattern of Always Getting Ready
Many of us fall into this pattern of always getting ourselves or our lives ready for tomorrow. We look towards the future with anticipation and goals that we must always be working towards. While having goals and aspirations isn't a bad thing, by getting caught up in always being focused on the future we miss out on what is happening in our lives today. We lose sense of all the skills we currently have, the belongings right in front of us, and the enjoyment in growing and learning.

Being focused on getting ready for the future also tends to lead us towards looking over the fence to what others have or what they are accomplishing. We see that others have a shiny new car, the newest fashion trend, or getting a promotion and think that we should be doing more to catch up with them. This leads to the same thing - missing out on what we do have and our own accomplishments. We start to feel envious and seek to live a life like those around us, or sometimes an even better life in order to one-up them.

Pleasure & Avoidance
Take a second to think about one of your favorite things, something that brings you a great deal of pleasure. Then, bring the opposite to mind, something that you really dislike, that you find downright repulsive. Now, once you've brought both of those into the forefront of your mind consider this - all things are neutral; it is only our label of things that makes them either pleasurable or repulsive. 

This hits on the power of perspective. What I might find to be disgusting, someone else might find to be incredibly pleasurable or vice versa. And, often times our perspective of things that are pleasurable or repulsive changes throughout our lifetime.

When I was a kid, I hated asparagus. My mom would cook it pretty regularly and would always make us eat at least a couple stalks. I used to get so irritated at this and sometimes fought it. Each time I had to eat asparagus, it never seemed to get better. As a young child, I decided that I didn't like asparagus and wouldn't eat it once I grew up and could make my own food choices. Then, a couple years after moving out on on my own, I came across asparagus and decided to give it a try...and to my surprise, I actually liked it. All of a sudden, it had such a great, earthy taste; the crunch was super pleasurable. My perspective of asparagus had changed. Now, years later, I still love eating asparagus and find it to be a pretty regular piece of my diet.

What if you reevaluated something that you once found repulsive or disgusting and gave it another try? What if you actually found yourself enjoying it after all this time?

We spend a large chunk of our days seeking out things that we want and avoiding what we don't like, whether that's food, certain situations, or people. Just take a few minutes to run through a day and find all the times you either sought out or tried to avoid something. It's super easy to fall into since it's just human nature. We enjoy things we like and don't enjoy things we don't like. But, the problem is that all this seeking and avoidance prevents us from being free and content. We use up so much of our resources in order to manipulate our day into how we want it to be instead of just taking the day as it comes.

Try this practice out the next time it rains in your part of the world:
As it starts to rain, notice how you feel. Do you feel angry, sad, frustrated about having to go out into the rain? What thoughts are coming up about how your day is going to go? Do you find yourself wishing that it could be different, that it could be sunny and warm instead? Once you've acknowledged your thoughts and feelings about the rain, let them go. Allow the rain to be just that, rain, neither good nor bad. Maybe put on your favorite rain gear and go jump in a couple puddles. See how your mood and thoughts change once you've allowed the rain to just be and stopped wishing for a different outcome. Notice how your day goes with this different perspective.

We are Responsible for our own Disturbances
Another way that we give away our power and ability to be grateful is by blaming others for hurting or upsetting us. When someone does something that annoys or offends us and we blame them for being so upset, we are rendering ourselves helpless. We are giving up our control over our own mood and well-being to another.

Instead, if we take responsibility over how we choose to react or think about a situation, we take back our control and gain the power over our own well-being. Without this, we place our ability to be happy and content on outside factors, factors that we have zero control over.

One of the ways that I would practice this concept is to change my perspective of people being in my way while walking on the sidewalks in Boston. As many of you know, Boston is a highly populated city, and people being in my way, preventing me from walking quickly to my destination used to irritate me more than just about anything I can think of. And, there would be times that I would get so irritated that my day would essentially be ruined because of other people being slow and inconsiderate. So, what I decided to do is ask myself if I was in other people's way, as well. Were there people who felt that I wasn't walking fast enough? Who was getting really irritated at me for standing in their way or weaving so they couldn't get around me? This allowed me to realize that it really was about my perspective and I had the power to choose a different route or just take the opportunity to slow down and stop running around like a crazy woman. And sure enough, my commutes got a lot less stressful.

Gratitude over Seeking
This may seem really obvious, but gratitude is the antidote to discontentment. By practicing gratitude and what we have in the moment, we will find contentment and ward off discontentment. 

Often times what happens is that we seek an outcome that is different than what we've been handed. We believe that the reality we're faced with can be different. But, the thing is, it cannot be different. The current moment is complete and there's no going back or changing it. The only thing that we can truly do is accept the reality we are currently living, and if we find it to be something that we don't want work to make the future different. Through changing to this way of living, we open ourselves up to being much more free to contentment and the possibility of taking control over our future. We allow ourselves to sit with whatever our current reality is, which opens us up to the deepest, most true parts of ourselves.

Building contentment with boredom, sadness, impatience, depression, disappointment, and loss, builds our ability to be that tall tree so rooted in the earth that great winds cannot topple it. Being content with our discontentment is itself a gateway to the calm depths within.
— Deborah Adele

Maintain Your Center
Finally, as we face life and all it throws at us, allow whatever comes to come. Even go so far as to welcome it in, whether that's happiness, joy, sadness, boredom, or grief. As you do, feel strong and rooted in who you are and what you have in this current moment. Recall all the moments before when you were able to face challenges and know that like all those before, this moment too will pass.

Exercises
For the upcoming week, use the following to practice bringing contentment into your life.

- Identify the areas in your life where you're getting ready for the future. What are you waiting to happen or be rather than living in your current reality?

- Notice how much energy you use each day to get what you want and avoid what you don't want. Notice what it feels like, both emotionally and physically, to seek out a different outcome than what you've been handed.

- Practice taking responsibility for your own disturbances. Work to not blame others, and notice what it feels like to take back control over your own well-being.

- Practice gratitude and being fully present in this moment. Great ways to do this is a daily gratitude list and taking small moments throughout your day to stop, take a few deep breathes, and come back to the moment.

Alright, my yogi warriors, go forth and have the most content, powerful, rooted week ever! 

With love and light,
Namaste