Isn’t it all too easy to rush through our lives? To wish for fairer days or less stress? To think, “well, once this happens, then everything will be better”? Qualifiers for satisfaction don’t often create satisfaction. It’s okay to be excited for changes to come, It’s equally okay to be scared for changes to come. What will this springtime bring to you? What will blossom and unfurl? And what if you start to unfurl and then… a big snowstorm comes and you have to scramble to find your scarf and mittens? The practice of Santosha, or contentment, is one of the main aspects of yoga. We practice the art of contentment for many reasons, but ultimately to find peace within ourselves.
Life is so unpredictable, comically so at times. Alanis Morissette’s song Ironic says it all: “an old man turned 98, he won the lottery and died the next day.” We can’t control life from happening, try as we may. Santosha is the yogic practice of contentment, and a regular meditation practice can support you in your search for contentment and release any feelings of control you may have over uncontrollable aspects of life. Meditation can help you enjoy each moment without a sense of holding on to it; as the good times roll in you can appreciate them without fearing that anything will be taken away from you. Conversely it can help you to not hold on to the rough moments; you can trust that times of struggle will not last forever and the sweetness of life will indeed return. Meditation is not easy work, just like life is not easy, but its benefits outweigh the great deal of effort it takes to come to a consistent and reliable meditation practice.
As we know from our yoga practice, our bodies can feel different from day to day, and our meditation practice is no different in that our mind can feel different from day to day. One of the first sutras from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is: “yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind: yogas chitta vritti nirodha”. We choose to still our mind with practices that allow us to experience life in its fullest, rather than simply feel the ups and downs of being in the human form. The more we can notice the trends of our own minds, the more we can find ultimate peace. The more we can accept our minds as they are, with thoughts and desires simply passing through them, the more we can find our own brand of being content.
Did you know that meditation, just like the human form, comes in many different shapes and sizes? It can be thought of as prayer, consideration, reflection or study. You can focus on an object, a word, a feeling, or your breath. You can sit, have your eyes closed, focus on a flower, or walk with your eyes softly gazing on the ground. You can laugh, you can sing, you can listen to music, or you can be quiet. You can hold hands with a loved one, swaddle a newborn, or scratch the chin of a pup. You can go to a yoga class or you can go to the mall (that’s right- the mall! Go get a Cinnabon while you’re at it!). There are endless ways to come into your meditation practice. To aid in the practice of Santosha choose your meditation practice and focus on any of the above options, or choose something else that makes you feel at ease where you can see your thoughts as they go. Notice if your mind tries to convince you that something is true: that if you find this opportunity then you will be free; if you achieve in that area then you will be fulfilled; if you made this decision life would have turned out this other way then you would finally be happy. Watch your mind’s fluctuations and take some power away from them, as they are not facts but simply opinions that have swam through your subconscious. If life needs to be perfect for you to find satisfaction, you’ll be doomed to a life of dissatisfaction, which is certainly doom. Find contentment in the present moment and all its perfect imperfections. Try to soften your face, your shoulders and your palms if you notice these things come up. Then bring your mind back to your focus. If you’re experiencing true dissatisfaction, at the very least you can be satisfied to know that is what you are going through right now, and it will not last forever. Perfect imperfections and satisfaction in the dissatisfaction: now that’s real Santosha.
Our yoga and meditation practice can help us settle into the changes of life with more resilience and strength than we thought possible. So on the first day of Spring if a snowstorm hits you can just smile to yourself as you put your sandals away and pull your boots back out of the closet, or if your mood becomes foul you can smile at the foulness, and let it all be. Let the weather do what it needs to do, let your mind think what it wants to think. Then there’s no need to rush to better weather, to rush to find something to snap you out of your mood. You don’t need qualifiers to be happy, because you’ve found something even better: peace in the moment, satisfaction in the now.