The residents of the San Francisco IYI practiced the Niyama, Santosha, for the month of November, experimenting with how we might live more fully by this principle. We all found it beneficial and I thought it was especially interesting to observe how and where I was most challenged to observe it, and to understand why.
Of course, we all grow up in a culture of “never enough”. We can easily fall into an unconscious and never-ending effort to acquire, arrange or achieve the things that we feel bring us security and love, our most basic needs. It becomes a habit to fill our time with doing or recovering from all that we do.
The prevailing beliefs of our culture tell us that peace of mind will be possible at some future time when something more is accomplished or something more is ours to keep. Thus, this moment is continually warped by anticipation or anxiety over the next thing to do or get. This moment, bound to the future, is never enough as it is and is never fully experienced.
Santosha, translated simply as contentment, 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. It does not mean that we have no intention of improving ourselves, which could be called complacency.
Santosha does mean that we are at peace with this moment as it is 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 will feel better after I finish this or that. 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 use of several conscious methods to practice Santosha. One 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 my birthright, as Sri Gurudev called it, and remind my mind that nothing can make me happy or sad.
Another approach I use is to remember that all that I experience is God’s Will, that my service is God’s service, not mine, and that nothing can come or go without it being for the greatest good. Sometimes I have experienced that something I have tried so hard to take care of—without succeeding—is not meant for me to do at all, and is resolved without me. Other times, I see that what I am really meant to do is to learn non-attachment, instead of making something happen.
The last method I’ll mention here is the great benefit I experience from my regular meditation and Hatha Yoga practice. I have seen so many times that I can experience deep inner peace, or at least a taste of it, even when all the projects and challenges are still waiting for me on my desk. It has gradually become more and more apparent that in the greater scheme of things, I have nothing to really worry about, since all my basic needs are taken care of.
This sense of being completely taken care of seems to shift organically into gratitude. Sri Gurudev used to ask us, “Who made your very first food?….your mother?”. Then he would remind us that even she watched as her breasts created that nourishment. For that matter, who arranged that the plants around us absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen? And who makes sure we remember to breathe at all?
Clearly, the universe and all its forms are created and guided by an unseen hand, a supreme intelligence. Each particle is a miraculous world of infinite detail and interconnected so fully that even prayers offered from a great distance can generate measurable benefits.
How is it that we manage to watch our bodies self-regulate minute by minute, the planets orbiting and the march of the penguins, and fail to be in awe? Can we just as easily observe, if we pay close attention, how we are being steadily guided to realize our innate condition of peace and compassion for each other?
Gratitude is the most natural response to even a small effort to acknowledge all that we are given, especially those of us who do not suffer from lack of basic needs. If we pause to really see the magnitude of these gifts, we will not fail to humbly offer thanks, to let the fullness in our hearts spill over as service to those in need.