Santosha – contentment, is a state of mind not dependent on material status.
Swami Veda teaches that at any moment we can choose to enjoy what there is to enjoy or suffer what there is to suffer. When we think about our life, what do we remember? When we think about close relationships, to what qualities do we give the most importance? This of course depends on what is going on at the present moment but even in the midst of a confrontation with someone, we can remember that this moment is not all of the relationship we have with them. We are more than who we are in this moment and so are they. Our shared life together is composed of many types of interactions.
When we focus on the positive, the negative will automatically drop away. When we focus on the negative, most of us drown in judgment and self-condemnation. We feel ashamed and guilty and powerless to change. This is not a helpful strategy. It is one of the major differences between eastern and western psychology.
The nature of the mind is silence. The vast depths of the mind are perfectly still. In order to experience that beautiful silence more often, we train ourselves to let go of the constant stream of thoughts floating through the mind. We train ourselves to not attach our mood, identity and feeling of self worth to our thoughts.
One of the yoga practices to support our journey towards freedom is cultivating santosha, a feeling of contentment. The previous niyama is the concept of shaucha, purity. Working with santosha builds on this.
Pema Chodron teaches ‘what allows us to stop compulsive thinking and behavior is maitri. In this case it means a basic feeling that we do not have to be afraid of what we are feeling right now, that we do not have to look for alternatives, that we aren’t ashamed of what we are feeling in this moment. Instead of being scared of what we are feeling, we can let our warmth toward this instant of time just be there as the working basis.
‘In order to do this we have to develop a sense that it is safe to stay with the present and not look for alternatives, that it is completely safe and even useful not to look for alternatives. Another way of looking at this is to say that we have a sense of warmth for the uncomfortable energy of the present moment, for the raw quality of energy, regardless of how irritating it is. And instead of being ashamed of being all caught up, we begin to regard it as a valuable place to be in.
‘Once we have developed the habit of trusting, we can find freedom. The most powerful time to work with this is when we are all caught up.’
Swami Rama sometimes said at the beginning of a talk, ‘I promise you will find this very interesting and enjoyable, provided you pay attention.’ Enjoyment happens only with concentration. Yoga meditation exercises and disciplines are helpful in training the mind to stay in the present moment. Anchoring our awareness to the breath helps us be present. Being willing to stay put with an uncomfortable feeling transforms the moment.
The focus we bring to our mind often determines whether we experience something as joyful or horrible. Some situations slam us against the wall and are intensely hard to work with. Most of the time we are not in that level of crisis. It is when life is a bit lighter that we can develop habits that will see us through the harder times. Cultivating santosha becomes a habit of the mind that increases the possibility of joy at all times.
When I was a child, I loved to ride my bike to edge of town. My friend and I would go to our favorite clearing in a poplar grove that dotted the Saskatchewan prairie. In the spring, we delighted in seeing the first crocus, in awe at the softness of the petals. We spent hours on our backs in the grass, looking at the sky, watching the clouds drift by. Enjoying the warm sun on our skin and the scent of grass in our nose. The air smelled fresh and clean. Birds sang and went about their activities. Sometimes at night in winter we would lie back on a snow bank and watch the stars and northern lights. As an adult, I went for years without this pleasure. Several years ago I went to Nose Hill park in Calgary and laid in the grass in the sunshine. I’ve had a committed grass shavasana practice ever since!
Saskatchewan winters were long and cold so spring was amazing. One spring day I wandered over the hills along the river valley for the whole day. My pant legs got wet from the melting snow so I took them off and hung them over a tree to dry in the sun while I enjoyed the sun on my skin again after so many months in clothes. There were no thoughts in my mind other than the pleasure of those moments. When we allow ourselves to fill our lives up with activities that keep us from enjoying this stillness, we lose these opportunities that are still available to us whenever we choose.
This week, lie on your back on the ground (on blanket or tarp if it’s cold or wet) and watch the sky. Even if you are initially bored, try to stick with it for a minimum 20 minutes. Do once in daylight and once at night. Be aware of your body and breath and just relax.
As soon as you have the chance, go outside and feel the rain on your body. Do the same with sunshine. Go outside and face down a blizzard or strong wind. Let the energy of the natural world wake you up