Santosha – Contentment

I am continuing my writing on the niyamas this week, the second limb of yoga. Niyamas are practices that support us in living in harmony with ourselves and others.  The second niyama is santosha, ‘contentment.’  What does it mean to live a life practicing contentment?

I am thinking of the popularity of gratitude lists these days, how the simple act of writing an appreciation list can shift us into a state of contentment.  Contentment implies satisfaction, peace with how things are, a relaxed resting into our present moment experience. For many of us on a transformative path like yoga, we can get so caught up in the goal of our practice, that we  lose the pleasure of the practice itself. Or we can get overly focused on what needs improvement, which can lead to excessive striving which is a sure recipe for discontent. It takes a lot of maturity to reach a point where we see how far we have to go, and yet can appreciate where we are right now. Ironically, until we can appreciate where we are right now, it can be hard to really shift our being.

I notice this a lot when I am out of sorts and feeling negative. Initially I will judge the negativity and feel worse. In a recent moment like this, another thought came: what if how you are feeling right now is fine (bad mood and all)? That thought opened up a whole range of possibility within my experience. I was able to hold the negativity with a little more space and even a touch of humor, which allowed more relaxation. I have adopted that wondering now when I become aware of judging myself, or my situation negatively. What if everything is ok right now—including this fussiness?

Contentment seems to arise more readily when I slow down and become aware of my immediate experience. Slowing down, breathing, becoming more aware of myself and my surroundings are all ways that allow me to find contentment right now. Contentment implies an unconditional acceptance and a trust of this moment now.

Makunda Stiles translates Patanjali’s sutra on santosha, 11, 42:

From contentment one gains supreme happiness.

Some questions to consider: How does contentment show up in your life? Does it imply complacency to you? Does excessive striving block your experience of contentment? Do you inadvertently practice discontent by routinely complaining (to yourself or others)? What supports your feeling of contentment? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Please leave them in the comments section below.

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