If we are in touch with an inner sense of contentment, our relationship to anything that we might acquire or achieve is dramatically different. We can still enjoy things that we accomplish or experience, but our happiness is not contingent on those things. We can still enjoy eating something or winning a game, and pursuing a career or a relationship, but we can also enjoy the process since we are not relying on the outcome.
“If there is no possibility of correcting a physical problem that you have, it doesn’t matter. Accept it as what God wanted you to have. The minute you learn to accept something, it is no longer that troublesome. You can live with anything and everything. Haven’t you known of people in worse conditions living happily and usefully? The problem is in the mind. If you just accept it, it becomes very easy, very light.”
Sri Swami Satchidananda
Contentment is a deceptively simple concept that offers tremendous benefit if we fully embrace its practice. We chose to practice it in December when the senses are exposed to all the holiday sparkle, lights and colors, the mind filled with the expectation of special gifts, and the taste buds enticed by gatherings with sumptuous food.
Such sensory pleasures give rise to countless desires, none of which bring lasting satisfaction. Instead, they all reinforce the prevailing messages of our culture telling us that something pleasurable is a means to happiness. Thus, the present moment is continually warped by anticipation over the next thing to do or get, and is never enough as it is.
Contentment, referred to as Santosha in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is not so easy to master because the habit of wanting and achieving is so deeply ingrained in us. It does not mean that we give up having goals and striving for them, or give up enjoying sensory experiences.
Contentment does mean that we are at peace with what we have now and with ourselves as we are, even as we strive to learn and grow. It does mean that we can enjoy the process of pursuing our goals, giving ourselves fully to them, without fear of failure.
I really like this idea but I struggle to practice it when my to-do list gets too big for my comfort, or when some challenging issue remains unresolved. At such times, I can’t seem to help feeling that I’ll be happier after I finish a project or after this issue is resolved. I find myself pushing my limits, working longer hours, ignoring my resolves for getting exercise and enough sleep, and or doing everything with a simmering stew of anxiety on the back-burner of my mind.
It has really helped me to make conscious effort to practice contentment. One way is to start my day, after my morning meditation, affirming that my essential nature is joy, and this joy is independent of anything that happens. It feels really good to assert this truth and really try to feel it, reminding my mind that nothing can make me happy or sad.
I encourage everyone to use this month to experiment with contentment by pausing and reflecting, “Can I be at peace with this moment as it is?” “Do I really have to have____________ before I can be happy?”
This will certainly be challenging in some situations, but when we do succeed to feel for ourselves moments of a natural inner contentment, we’ll be inspired to keep practicing. The more we learn to stay in touch with this innate peace, the more our lives will become a joyful balancing act, riding the waves of change.
“Pratyahara centers on the right intake of impressions. Most of us are careful about the food we eat and the company we keep, but we may not exercise the same discrimination about the impressions we take in from the senses. We accept impressions via the mass media that we would never allow in our personal lives. We let people into our houses through television and movies that we would never allow into our homes in real life! What kind of impressions do we take in every day? Can we expect that they will not have an effect on us? Strong sensations dull the mind, and a dull mind makes us act in ways that are insensitive, careless, or even violent.”