Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Hello Dear Yogis,

Last week we began our exploration of the niyamas, which are the inner disciplines and prescribed observances that bring greater aliveness to the yogi’s life off the mat. I spoke about saucha (purity and cleanliness), and its many levels and benefits.

The second niyama is santosha, which means contentment. This is the kind of contentment that allows us to meet the vicissitudes of life with equanimity and acceptance. Whatever life brings, we maintain our sense of inner calm as we cultivate the “witness”—the awareness that watches without getting sucked into identifying with the story.  We learn to view our life situation with a detached (yet compassionate) presence.

Santosha does not mean that we never experience dissatisfaction or get upset. We are human, and waves of emotion move through us. But having a strong foundation in the practice of santosha means that we are better able to observe these emotions as they pass through. We see the forest through the trees.  We are more readily able to return to center, rather than indulging in thoughts of victimhood and other habits of negative thinking.

The ultimate embodiment of santosha would be the ability to maintain unwavering serenity in the presence of all of life’s ups and downs. We are able to witness pain and pleasure, hardship and ease, through the eyes of unconditional love, without succumbing to emotional disturbance.

No matter what happens, we maintain a state of peace and emotional evenness, knowing that we have God’s love and lack nothing. We have faith that everything that happens is somehow ultimately for the highest good. The adept at santosha becomes the alchemist who can transform the worst situation into a glorious celebration. When we master santosha, we will be totally free of desires and attachments.  ~Joanna Mosca, YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom

This may seem like a tall order for most of us. But part of practicing santosha is compassionate acceptance of ourselves, no matter what.  We are content with wherever we are in our spiritual journey.

In thinking about who actually embodies santosha at this level, I am reminded of Byron Katie, author of the bestseller “Loving What is”, and several other titles. She is a truly remarkable woman, a living example of one who is completely content with whatever life brings. However, she wasn’t always that way—in fact, she suffered from chronic, debilitating depression for over ten years. One day, her mind just cracked open, and the depression dissolved in an instant (along with her identity as a separate self). All that was left was peace and joy.

In her book A Thousand Names for Joy, Katie gives us a glimpse of her world and the unshakeable peace that she now experiences:

I’m preparing a salad. I see flashes of colors. My hands begin to reach for what calls out to me. Red! And I reach for the beets. Orange! And I reach for the carrots. Green! And my hands move to the spinach. I feel the textures, I feel the dirt. Purple! And I move to the cabbage. All of life is in my hands. There’s nothing lovelier than preparing a salad, its greens, reds, oranges, purples, crisp and juicy, rich as blood and fragrant as the earth. I move to the countertop. I begin to slice.

Just when I think that life is so good that it can’t get any better, the phone rings and life gets better. I love that music. As I walk toward the phone, there’s a knock at the door. Who could it be? I walk toward the door, filled with the given, the fragrance of the vegetables, the sound of the phone, and I have done nothing for any of it. I trip and fall. The floor is so unfailingly there. I experience its texture, its security, its lack of complaint. In fact, the opposite: it gives its entire self to me. I feel its coolness as I lie on it. Obviously it was time for a little rest. The floor accepts me unconditionally and holds me without impatience.  As I get up, it doesn’t say, “Come back, come back you’re deserting me, you owe me, you didn’t thank me, you’re ungrateful.”  No, it’s just like me. It does its job. It is what it is. The fist knocks, the phone rings, the salad waits, the floor lets go of me—life is good.

The beauty of the salad, the interruptions, falling on the floor, are all embraced fully, without being partial to any of it. That’s santosha to the max.  I have been deeply inspired by Byron Katie and her process of inquiry she calls The Work. To learn more about this amazing woman and her teachings, visit www.thework.com .

Another aspect of santosha is gratitude. This is a practice we undertake, an attitude we commit to, rather than something we do as a response to circumstances. It is a spiritual muscle that we exercise, as we practice saying thank you for things in our life and in our bodies that we might otherwise take for granted. Gradually, gratitude becomes the foundation upon which we stand. We cultivate a ground of gratefulness to support us and keep things in perspective when difficult circumstances and challenges arise.

It isn’t happiness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Santosha can also be manifested by practicing being at peace with the simple, mundane tasks of life, without falling into the trap of boredom. We can enjoy the fullness of folding the laundry, washing the dishes, raking the leaves. Our modern culture continually entices us toward bigger, faster, more exciting, and better. Our economic system is predicated on the idea of not-enough, encouraging us to be dissatisfied and restless. Technology is designed to lure us into a fast-paced life with constant stimulation from media and various electronic devices. Our society urges us to keep wanting more, newer stuff.  The clothing we just bought last season is now out of fashion, and the computer that still works just fine is now a “dinosaur.” The practice of santosha affirms our appreciation for what we have and who we are, and allows us to rest in a sense of “enough.”

How can we practice santosha in our daily lives?

--Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, think of at least three new reasons to be grateful.

--Life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice resting in “enough.” Try working with the following affirmation: This is enough, this moment is enough, this person is enough, this meal is enough, I am enough.

--Limit your use of television and other media that make use of ads that continually bombard you with messages that reinforce a sense of lack and inadequacy.

--Include affirmations of gratitude as part of your daily prayer practice. The great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said that “if the only prayer you ever said in your life was ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.”

--Engage in a regular meditation practice that focuses on equanimity, such as vipassana (insight) meditation.

I came to see that the world is always as it should be, whether I opposed it or not. And I came to embrace reality with all my heart. I love the world, without any conditions. ~Byron Katie

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