Monday, August 22, 2016

Santosha (Contentment)

Santosha is a beautiful Sanskrit word that means contentment. In yogic philosophy, Santosha is the second of five principles called Niyamas, which are guidelines for personal behavior that lead to a happy life.

Living a contented life is something that most of us want. But the road to contentment is riddled with bumps and ruts and potholes. Sometimes we miss our turn and have to double back. Other times we find ourselves well down a path that at first looked so promising, but eventually turns out to be a dead end. We encounter fallen trees blocking the road and accidents and detours. Sometimes we even manage to overlook giant blinking red STOP signs or flashing green lights along the way.

And yet.

Each step on the path, even the missteps, (especially the missteps!) bring us information. When we are young, there is so much to want, and this is not a wrong thing. Where we go off track is when what we want is all that matters, and nothing else will satisfy us. We become obsessed with the idea that our happiness depends on some desired event or outcome – getting a certain job, a certain kind of home, a certain level of income or even a certain person. All of our dreams of a happy life are wrapped up in and dependent upon attainment of these things. Our mantra becomes, “I’ll be happy when ….”

We get so caught up in our highly specific wants that we cannot even see all the other beautiful possibilities that are being offered to us. And so often, when we do get what we want, we find that it does not live up to our expectations, or it only satisfies us for a short while. Soon another want takes over and we are off and running again in pursuit of a new person or thing that we think will make us happy.

And then.

Eventually, we learn. Each time we get what we want only to still feel empty; each time that we don’t get what we want only to find that it was very much for the best; each time we let go of expectation and attachment to a particular outcome and find that something far better than what we hoped for simply "drops into our lap,” we experience our first glimmers of understanding that perhaps our attempts to control outcomes are working against us. We begin to sense that, if we let go of our need to control things just a little, things might work out just fine – or better than we ever could have imagined. We begin to sense that perhaps the Universe is actually on our side after all.

And so.

The road to contentment is the journey of a lifetime. Even when we begin to trust a bit more, to have a bit more faith, we may still sometimes want to seize control again. But control is an illusion, really, isn’t it? We grasp for it, but it has no substance. And so we learn the lesson again and again until it finally sinks in.

Eventually, we look at what we already have and realize that it is so much. We begin to be grateful for the small things, which turn out to be the big things after all. Our breath. Our lives. Our love. We begin to see all the beauty that surrounds us. We begin to see the souls of the people in our lives, rather than their outer shells or their quirks and annoying habits. We begin to appreciate nature again, the way we did when we were small. We begin to let go of clinging to our desires and become grateful for our blessings. Gratitude, acceptance, letting go, love, appreciation, generosity – these are the underpinnings of Santosha.