Santosha – Contentment through Awareness

Cat with eyes closed looking contented

The sparkling jewel of Santosha (contentment) invites us to drop into awareness of our current experience in the space between the thoughts. Contentment is available at the moment I become aware of what I am experiencing and discover that I have a choice. In one moment, there may be a good deal of pleasure and support. In another, there may be distress, agitation, pain, suffering, and longing. Awareness is not always a pleasant experience. 

Whether I am having a good time or a “bumpy ride,” bringing my awareness into the present moment is the beginning of having a choice. I get to consider whether an easy adjustment can lead to contentment or whether contentment may need to be found within the present moment exactly as it is by refocusing my attention into the practice of gratitude.

The Tricky Mind

The mind can play a number of tricks when it travels outside of the present moment. For example, in our community time conversations this month about Santosha, comparison with others was mentioned as a cunning trap, taking us away from contentment. Someone in class shared the quotation that “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s not unusual to compare oneself  with others, whether it’s one’s abilities, attributes, or objects such as houses, cars, and clothing. But when I do, I’m clearly devaluing my life as it is, my present moment experience, just as it is. Sometimes what I find in awareness is that I’m putting myself down; contentment is nowhere to be found when I am in the middle of being self-critical.

What’s Awareness Got to Do with it?

Now, let’s pause for a moment. You might be thinking, “Did you say awareness? Drop into the present moment? Come into awareness of my experience in the moment? I think you just lost me there.” 

Okay. I’m not surprised. That’s how it is for most people. For most of us, awareness does not come easy. The mind is always going; it rarely slows down. And then over time with regular practice, we strengthen our focus and develop the capacity to concentrate, to be more aware. Here, I’ll refer you to Bhavani’s six-class series: “Gateways to Meditation, Six Concentration Practices.” She covers the six most fundamental practices: Breath, Walking, Body Scan, Loving Kindness, Mantra and Chanting. Available in our video library, it provides excellent lessons in simple techniques for developing focus and, thus, greater awareness.

Let’s pick up the thread again at “Contentment is available at the moment I become aware of what I am experiencing and discover that I have a choice.”

Sometimes when life feels like it provides a bumpy ride, I might need to make another choice. Before I make a choice, awareness invites me to consider two things: what do I need? And what are my options?

What Do I Need?

This is where the plot thickens. After awareness, the first step becomes the following inquiry: “What do I need now?” At this potent moment, I draw on my self-knowledge. To find an answer to “what I need now” sometimes requires a bit of  vulnerability. I may need to be honest with myself about something I feel self-conscious of, or ashamed of. I may need to let go of preferring to “do it myself”, I may need to get help or advice from others. I also may need to breathe and bear feelings that I’d rather push away for another day. Or I may be inclined toward a  a habitual response, approaching a challenge  in a way that is comfortable to me: 

I may need to summon the courage to respond to “what I need” in a new way that takes me out of my comfort zone.

As a wise man once said, “This moment hides a message that you need to hear.” Whether my moment is pleasurable or not, it is usually a valuable inquiry to ask, “What do I need now?” I might ask myself, “Dear heart, what do you need now, or what do you need today, or tonight?”

Since we are multidimensional beings, my needs may be physical, emotional, mental, or all three! Physically, I may need more breath, extra hydration, a little food/fuel, some rest, to warm or cool myself, to get some fresh air, or to bask in some sun. Emotionally, I may need to take a deep breath, to relax, to allow feelings, to soothe, to connect, to be soothed, to disconnect, to take some space, to feel some more, to cry, to yell, to move, to hug, to send away, or to invite towards. Mentally, I might need appreciation, acknowledgement, or clarifying information. A reality check, a few instructions or directions, some imagination or stimulation, or even a bit of focus and concentration might be needed.

Whatever I discern that I need, if I am to move towards contentment, the next step is to address another question, “What are my options?”

Options and Choices

If my need is a general one, like, I need a break or I need to be loved, I might have to dig a little deeper to find options. Or, the need may occur as specific, like wanting to eat a particular food or to connect with a particular person. When the need occurs as something very specific, if I want to reach a state of contentment, I may have to step back and consider what is the true essence of the need. Does it have to be pizza or could it be a bowl of soup? Do I have to be with that exact person that comes to mind, or do I just need to connect with someone in a meaningful way? Do I have to take a two week ocean cruise or could a weekend at an airbnb on the shore do? If I can’t take a whole day off, can I take a relaxing bath at the end of the day? 

These types of questions form the process of considering options. There are usually many options that will meet the need. Although they may not meet my initial image of the ideal solution, they may satisfy the hunger. Do I have to change my life, overextend, over-indulge to meet the need, or could something simple and easy satisfy my heart and bring contentment? This is another inquiry  where I get to be honest with myself.

So, I’ve now considered my options. Next, I get to make a choice.

Making a choice can involve more than appears at first, as well. This is when I get to evaluate based on my life experience. What has worked before? What has not turned out the way I had hoped? When I am aware that I have options and choices, I am that much closer to being free. The choice may have to be an experiment, like, let’s try this and see how this works. The choice may require making a request of someone. The request may receive a yes. The request may receive a not at this time response, or it may be responded to with not ever. I may not get what I want or need at this moment. Sometimes the practice of contentment, according to Deborah Adele in The Yamas and Niyamas, is to be content with being discontent. Easier said than done, but there is a freedom in knowing that this is an option; I don’t have to fix everything to find contentment if I can drop into awareness and accept this present moment, welcoming this moment just as it is. By embracing what is, I may discover a contentment inside that is not dependent on life bending to my demands or preferences. 

One of our community members, Emily Eisen, shared a variation of the set of maxims written by Dr. Kent Keith that is posted on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home, Shishu Bhavan, in Calcutta. 

Overall, the piece by Dr. Keith that has been adapted and shared the world over, is about unhooking from a dependence on outside approval and thus, increasing our chances of living a life of contentment. Here’s the variation shared by Emily:

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. 

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. 

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. 

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. 

If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy. Be happy anyway. 

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. 

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. 

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. 

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