¨As a result of contentment, one gains supreme happiness.¨
The second niyama is santosha, or contentment. As with any new way of being that we learn, it is a practice. Our default is not to be content. Neuroscience has recently proven what ancient yogis have known for millennia: Even though we have many positive experiences, our minds tend to go to the negative ones. Thus, the practice part is key. Any skill that we practice we will surely get better at.
Santosha is a practice of being still with faith, an open heart and an open mind. We have endless opportunities in life, on the yoga mat and on the meditation cushion to practice contentment. While in postures we like, and also in postures that we don’t like; when we are comfortable sitting in meditation and in moments that we feel very uncomfortable. In all these practices we are observing the mind, and how it moves from contentment to discontentment, from the present moment to another place and time. We just keep coming back to the watching; to the observing. There is a cumulative effect from making contentment a practice. The more we practice, the more we are actually content.
I find that one of the keys to practicing santosha is gratitude. When I practice gratitude, I realize what I have to be content about. Therefore, it is almost a double practice. It is easier to practice contentment in joyful moments and during positive experiences. What Patanjali is asking of us is to be willing to embrace the difficult moments as well. Starting with the happy moments is a good beginning! And for some, even in happy moments we are waiting for the ¨other shoe to drop¨, not letting ourselves be content even during joyful experiences.
My younger sister, and only sibling died last year. It was an intense time. Prior to this I hadn’t had a family member that close to me die, and I had never been with someone at the moment they left their body. Although it is difficult to describe the experience, and I was certainly in shock, it strangely felt like the greatest honor to support someone that I loved so deeply while she left this plane of existence. I cannot say that I was content; however my years of practice of santosha gave me strength and the ability to see the strange beauty all around me during this extremely difficult time. The family in the hospital waiting room who always offered us part of the food that they brought in and whose teenage son was in a similar condition. They were ever positive and we sure that their loved one would be with them again at some point. They never gave up, and always asked us how my sister was and how they could help us. I would later hear their young son had also passed. The care, compassion and expertise of the medical staff who repeatedly expressed their desire to maintain dignity for my sister in this process; The nurse who had the wherewithal that we did not in that moment, to braid my sisters messy hair. I found myself, if not exactly content, extremely grateful for these and many more moments and gestures from people surrounding me. I felt very blessed to have support and love from so many people. I felt held and was able, in the moment to feel and express it.
When I sat down to write this I had no idea that I would share this painful and life altering experience. As I type, I realize on a new level how the practices of yoga have also altered my life, in such positive ways. My sincere wish for myself and for us all, is to never stop practicing and to never lose sight of these blessings.
In service, with love