An Exercise in Perspective
The Sanskrit term santosha is translated as contentment. It's basic premises is that we should be content in our lives and not constantly wanting for more or for other. Santosha is one of the niyamas, or ethical principles of yoga. These offer us perspectives on and approaches to life which are as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago. The niyamas are one of the eight limbs, or tenets, of traditional yoga. As your interest in yoga expands beyond asana (which is just one of the eight limbs) you may begin to dive into these other facets of the practice and find yourself flooded with information. It's sort of like playing with Russian dolls. If asana is that outermost, most ostentatious of the eight limbs, they get more subtle and more nuanced as you part each layer.
The final piece isn't a tiny piece of wood with a painted face. Once you reach the center of the Yoga Dolls, there's nothing to be seen or grasped. The final limb of yoga, called samadhi, is a state of undisturbed peace, a stillness which is yours and always has been. It's no coincidence that yoga means union. That state of blissful being is inseparable from you because it is you. You are not the constant flux of mind body and emotions- you are that which simply is. You are that.
Coming back to santosha, contentment, I think about how sacrifice and gain go hand in hand. That's a strong word- sacrifice. I immediately conjure up images of bloodied Aztec chiefs sacrificing a human heart to appease the gods and ensure that the other humans could go on living off the harvest. We've obviously gotten away from such practices and indeed from the very the idea of sacrifice, but it's still an important part of the matrix of our lives. Often what we sacrifice is our own Santosha- our own contentment- because we are fed the idea that we need someTHING more to be whole. New clothes. Better make-up. Expensive jeans. Designer hand bags that cost a month's rent. More is always better, you can never have too much, you don't need to give anything up, you can have it all, or at least you should try to.
It isn't that going shopping will always be bad and make you miserable. That isn't true and it's not the point. The point is that acquisition and sacrifice are two legs on the same body. One doesn't go anywhere without the other. When I'm suddenly overcome by an onset of shopping lust, I think of the words of former Uruguayan president José Mujica, "When you buy something, you're not paying with money. You're paying with the time you spent to have that money." You're sacrificing your time. It isn't exactly human sacrifice, but it kind of is, considering how precious and limited our time is. Mujica goes on to say, simply, “Happiness is inside you.” Why go looking for it?
The next time you want for something, consider what it is that's being given up in order to gain that, and if it's a fair deal. At times, the biggest sacrifice we make in order to acquire something, someone, or someplace outside or ourselves is our own contentment. It's: “Forget about this, I want that!”
On the other hand, some sacrifices feel inherently good to us. We declutter to feel at home again. We give to a friend or loved one to feel their happiness. We stretch our bodies to give up some of the tension we normally hold. When we breathe smoothly we give up the tendency to hold it in-we give up a little hardness to make way for a little santosha. We feel good. That's why we miss an hour's sleep or forego Happy Hour to get on our mats. And we know that the contentment we gain isn't just our own-it radiates outward to everyone who needs us. Our contentment gained from self care becomes their contentment.
When I feel myself drowning in compare-and-despair mode, or just feeling like life isn't dealing me the "right lot," I stop and take inventory of what I'm thankful for. I pull out a pen and paper and write down 10 things, people, and/or experiences I'm grateful for. It's usually difficult to stop after 10. It's an incredibly simple and effective exercise (won't you try it?) Once I break out of the inertia of discontentment, it feels so good to be grateful. Often it's just as simple as remembering.