Santosha: Making Peace with Reality

I’ve been chasing rainbows again. I felt dissatisfied with my current housing, worried that it costs too much, and spent hours and hours online overwhelming myself with housing options. Apartments, houses, city, country, buy, rent… You know you’ve lost touch with reality when living in a storage unit seems reasonable. I felt discontented with everything, so I sat myself down and started a  list of what’s really important in my housing.

As I added items to my list, I began to realize that I already had a lot of what I thought I yearned for. Sure it would be nice to have a bigger kitchen, or less freeway noise. Maybe what I have doesn’t look exactly like my fantasy, but it certainly meets most of my needs. With this realization, I felt myself relax a little.

I sat quietly and tried to take in the present moment, the present circumstances, and my current environment. I was reminded of the concept of santosha, or contentment, one of the yamas, or ‘restraints’, listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

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

Santosha comes from within. It’s a sense of freedom from attachment to the wants and desires of this world. When we are filled up with desire it increases our dependence on possessions and the senses. We think that ‘things’, or anything ‘more-better’– a better job, a better relationship, will make us happy. But no matter how things turn out materially, the result ultimately leads to a level of discontentment. You always want more and can never be satisfied. This is particularly true in the West and especially in America, where we’re constantly bombarded with the ‘more-better’ message.

quote_contentment_lao_tzu
Contentment is really about accepting life as it is. It’s not about creating perfection. Life can and will throw whatever it wants at you, and ultimately you have little control. Your own measure for santosha is how you respond to the changes in all the circumstances of life.

Yoga is a great venue for exploring this because yoga is skill in action. It requires a balance between the effort you put out and how much you allow or surrender. We don’t have to wait for more growth or a higher experience of yoga, because it will never come. Welcome whatever shows up. It may be a tricky asana, a difficulty at work, or a challenge in your relationship.

I haven’t mastered santosha. I still lust for a big, beautiful kitchen. But I can practice some contentment with the kitchen I have right now. And maybe later, I can release the desire for any sort of kitchen at all. If you release your mind from constantly wanting your situation to be different, you’ll find more ease. This is not to say you can’t change your reality, but just for a moment, see if you can let go of the war with reality. If you do, you’ll be able to think more clearly and be more effective in making a difference.

 

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