Contentment is a practice. Wise words from a teacher as I prepared to leave a week-long retreat and re-enter the chaos of everyday life. As we explored santosha, one of the niyama (internal disciplines), she gently pointed out that this practice of contentment is not just some nice feeling we cuddle up to when life is flowing along as we like it. Contentment is a practice that we continue to live out when life is hard and throws us around.
Contentment is a practice. This turned out to be pretty easy as I returned to my daily routine for just a week and then headed off to Idaho to study/vacation next to a mountain lake. What ease filled my being as I practiced asana every morning on the dock before a refreshing swim in the sparkling water. Meals day and night were eaten outside with friends and family, the whirlwind of life slowed enough to hear the neighborhood frog and enjoy the occasional thunderstorm as it rolled through…contentment, piece of cake. Easy as an exhale.
Contentment is a practice. I certainly set myself up for quite a shock upon returning home. Autumn seemed to arrive early and I struggled to switch gears from 90 degrees/sunshine to rather bone chilling rain and wind that first week of September in Seattle. Add in the end of a quarter of school followed by the upheaval of a move and that peaceful, easy-breezy contentment feeling fell away pretty fast.
Contentment is a practice. Indeed. On the final morning in the home I had lovingly built for myself over the past four years, I took time to set up my yoga mat. I sat down, let my Sutras book fall open and there is was staring up at me "santosad anuttamah sukha-labhah" -- Sutra II.42 with a note scribbled from a class with my teacher Jo, "contentment is a practice." In other words, it's a choice I make each moment, whatever swirls about me and however I feel automatically in response.
It's as the wise farmer Fukuoka says (once again graduate school and yoga intersect)... Day by day hair and nails grow, tens of thousands of cells die, tens of thousands more are born, the blood in the body a month ago is not the same blood today. If participation in this cycle can be experienced and savored each day, nothing more is necessary. But most people are not able to enjoy life as it passes and changes from day to day. They cling to life as they have already experienced it, and this habitual attachment brings fear of death. Paying attention only to the past, which has already gone, or to the future, which has yet to come, they forget that they are living on the earth here and now. Struggling in confusion, they watch their lives pass as in a dream.
Contentment is a practice. I invite you to join me in an exploration of santosha as the days become short and dark. Leave the dreams for your sleep and live the rest of your moments fully awake. Some will be easy and others quite challenging - Yoga is an ongoing balance of effort and ease. Contentment can be found at both ends and everywhere in between.