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Santosha: the journey of contentment

April 20, 2012

Santosha is translated as contentment, in the Yoga Sutras, as one of the Niyamas, or personal practices/spiritual disciplines. This is the advice:  Practice contentment. It is not:  Pretend you are contented, or perfect your life in all ways so that you will finally achieve contentment.

“Santosha brings about a state of cheerfulness and benevolence”. –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy. Here we should understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction. Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike”. –Swami Satchidananda, Translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 2:42.

“The cultivation of contentment (santosa) is to make the mind a fit instrument for meditation as contentment is the seed of the meditative state”. “… contentment can only come from the ability to harmonize with our immediate environment”. –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Practice contentment, in every breath, in every moment. The reason to do this is for equanimity of mind, allowing us to live so that even under stress, we are able to maintain an evenness of mind, to remain aware of the state of Being from which we can make the most clarified decisions, and have complete understanding.

But practicing contentment isn’t second nature to our minds. Our minds thrive on problems and discontent, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can reprogram our minds by practicing contentment, but stressful situations come up constantly, and it isn’t easy to figure out how to be contented in all situations. This is the journey of contentment, and it is every step you take. It is a constant practice, a spiritual discipline.

There are two different tools available to help us practice contentment; gratitude and acceptance. First, gratitude in every moment can change your outlook in any stressful situation. True gratitude, not sarcasm, or “thankfulness” seasoned with resentment, but true gratitude.

The second tool at your disposal is acceptance. The sages said, “The fastest way to happiness is acceptance”. But listen, acceptance can be misunderstood to be passive, non-responsive, or even apathetic. Instead, think of it this way; in every situation you have three choices:  to change it, leave it, or accept it. The situation exists no matter how you interpret it. The toast is burnt, matter of fact. This fact you must accept before you can think clearly to make a decision on your next course of action. Can you change it? Maybe you could do the scrape-scrape thing, and still eat it. Can you leave it? Maybe it’s not worth saving, and you should just throw it out. If you cannot change it or leave it, your only option remaining is to accept it.

Watching yourself throughout your day, notice how contented you feel. During the times you are not feeling contented, try to apply the practice. Employ gratitude and acceptance to aid in your practice of contentment, in every moment, with every step.

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