Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yoga and Contentment

The second niyama discussed in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is santosha or contentment. The thinking is easy. In order to achieve great happiness, learn to be content with what you have and accept what is. Let go of expectations and rest easy in the flow of life. Learn that the state of mind does not depend on any external status or material things. The state of your mind and happiness depends on your perspective and willingness to remain calm with each success and failure...

The easiest way to practice santosha is to find gratitude in your life daily. Each day wake up and count at least 10 things you have to be grateful for. In the same way, seek abundance in your life in all that is around you. The sun in the sky, the green grass, the breeze that wisps across your neck. Make the most out of every situation...

The above is from the current post on the blog Capricious Yogi. I think it's a pretty decent summary and practice offering, and obviously somewhat similar to what I wrote in a recent post about gratitude.

Here is a little more specific focus on the verse from the Yoga Sutra in question.

2.42 From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.
(santosha anuttamah sukha labhah)

santosha = contentment
anuttamah = unexcelled, extreme, supreme
sukha = pleasure, happiness, comfort, joy, satisfaction
labhah = is acquired, attained, gained

Santosha brings happiness and joy: From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.

Contentment comes from within: We humans seem to always be seeking satisfaction in the external world and our internal fantasies. Only when we comfortably accept what we currently have will be able to do the practices that lead to the highest realization.

I've noticed lately how often yoga teachers and students seem to lean on the translations "comfort" and "happiness" when discussing santosha. I don't think it's an accident, and I do think it can create limits on how people perceive and enact the teachings.

Simply put, finding comfort and happiness are two of the grand addictions of modern, Western life. And even though it doesn't take a lot to see that what the Yoga Sutras are speaking about isn't the same as pop culture is speaking about, the very words can be Pavlovian triggers for many of us, regardless of how much practice we do.

So, what is contentment really? And how might we fully embody and express it?

To me, contentment is fairly easy when things in my life are not too difficult. But what about in those situations where you're mad as hell, and others are mad as hell at you? Or when you're surrounded by people who are upset, depressed, outraged, or even hateful?

How might you fully embody and express contentment there?

If you're like me, you probably tend to go off kilter in these situations. Either you start to take on the energy and actions of those around you, or you create a wall and stuff anything remotely unsettling down into yourself.

I'll be honest, many of the ancient yoga texts are really weak when it comes to addressing living the teachings within complex, communal situations - like in a bustling city for example. Many of the old yogis were elites who separated themselves from all of that, so it's not a huge surprise.

And neither is it a surprise that I have come up with more questions to sit with. It's a skill I seem to have.

Perhaps contentment comes through being at ease with questions...


Eco Yogini said...

this is weirdly timely. I was just struggling with this concept as I was walking home today- feeling cynical and disheartened... as I have been for a while. And wondering- you know what? I must be a glass half full kinda gal. Kinda depressing to admit, but I think it's true for right now in my life.

so how to be happier with the little things in life?

great post- thank you. :)

Capricious Yogi said...

Great continuation of the discussion. I think it's important to remember that it's all a practice. Some days will be a breeze and some days will be more difficult. In the the classic sense, if you can learn to be comfortable with knowing that you are exactly where you need to be with exactly what you need to be here, then you can start to release from the negative hold of expectations and limitations.

Sometimes it's the our over questioning nature that ends up standing in our own way.

Great post! Thanks for sharing! :)

Nathan said...

"Sometimes it's the our over questioning nature that ends up standing in our own way."

A good reminder for me. Occasionally, I go overboard with the questions and I can imagine other readers here do as well.