As we prepare to gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving at the end of this month, I wanted to offer some reflection on gratitude, and how it fits into the yogic worldview.
With regard to gratitude, there are two Sanskrit words that are found in classical yoga, Aparigraha and Santosha, which are two of the ten fundamental commitments essential to the yogic lifestyle. These “ten commandments” are observances and restraints that serve as the ethical and moral foundation for yoga practice, and they are integral components of the 8-limbed path that Patanjali prescribed in the Yoga Sutras, over 2000 years ago.
Santosha means contentment. It is a willingness to accept what life brings with a sense of equanimity, gratitude and joy. It involves developing the ability to move through life’s vicissitudes as witness to it all, rather than being emotionally caught in the waves. Through the eyes of unconditional love, we see joy and struggle, pain and pleasure, gain and loss without losing our sense of balance. Santosha involves a deep trust in Spirit’s love, knowing that all that happens is somehow for our highest good and that we lack nothing.
Aparigraha is the flip side of that same coin--it means non-possessiveness, non-coveting., non-greediness, or phrased in a more affirmative way, "acknowledging abundance." It’s about being happy with what you already have. In this consumer- driven culture that continually screams “Bigger! Better! More!”, abundance is a frame of mind that must be mindfully and perseveringly cultivated.
Practicing wanting what you have, rather than succumbing to the incessant desire to have what you want, encourages us to live simply, for our own spiritual health and for the health of the planet.
Santosha and Aparigraha naturally feed into one another. When one practices the restraint of non-possessiveness, contentment is a natural result. When one engages in practices that strengthen contentment, then desire, jealousy and a sense of lack naturally fall away.
Implicit in this practice is generosity—when we realize that we have more than enough of what we need, giving and sharing with others flows with ease.
But, what if one is living in real poverty, unable to meet their most basic needs for nourishment, shelter, and health? Practicing contentment and non-possessiveness is not about minimizing the awareness of true poverty, or about glorifying suffering. Instead, yoga values cultivating a lifestyle of inward and outward simplicity, which involves becoming clear about true needs versus wants.
The practices of Santosha and Aparigraha do not mean that we should not work to improve our conditions or to create more abundance in our lives. But we can begin with a sense of acceptance of what is, and of what karmic influences brought us to where we are now. We can practice gratitude regardless of our circumstances, noticing what we have been blessed with and where there already is abundance and grace. It is from that spiritual vantage point that we ask Spirit to guide us toward our next right actions.
If you would like to explore the practices of contentment and non-possessiveness more deeply, I invite you to read my previous blog posts on Santosha and Aparigraha.
May your mind and heart be filled with gratitude and ease, so that each and every day is for you a celebration of Thanksgiving.