Why striving for satisfaction is a spiritual dead end.

(It’s contentment I'm looking for.)

I like to close my eyes and locate a feeling in my body because by working out where it lives, I can get a sense of it’s anatomy- what it’s really made of -- and then begin to unpack it.

In asking myself where satisfaction lives, I’ve discovered it resides within my mind, driven by ego and the reward centre of the brain. On the flip-side, contentment lives in my heart-  it's a more pure state of being out of which true happiness arises.

I’m giving time and blog space to this matter because I’ve heard satisfaction being used synonymously to meant contentment/ santosha and yet I find them hugely different.

Santosha is the second Niyama of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. It follows Saucha/ Cleanliness, because we've gottaclear out the muck and cobwebs- attachement (raga) and aversion (dvesha)- for contentment to arise.

Yoga is skill in action, on the mat or in your daily life, one of yoga's highest goals is to cultivate Abhyasa (dedication, effort and consistency), while also having Vairagya (the ability to surrender and let it all go). This idea is also expressed in "Sthira Suhka Asanam": an instruction from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, inviting us to cultivate steadiness and ease in all things.

To have true contentment, we need to show up and do our best, but then let go of investment in outcomes. If we just give up effort from the get-go and accept an average outcome, this is more like consolation rather than contentment; it may breed resentment later because we did not try. We still need to have effort, however make sure we are unswayed by outcome.

Contentment dances a slow entrancing waltz with equanimity. Arising from within, it can exist regardless of circumstance and this is powerful ! No need to rely on external factors, striving or waiting for others. With santosha you'll be free from blaming, judgement and self-pity. Cultivate santosha and you have a garden in which true happiness can blossom.

In the Indian Epic Mahabharata, (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) the virtue of Santosha is discussed in many books. For example, in Shanti Parva (the Book of Peace),

"Santosha (contentment) is the highest heaven, santosha is the highest bliss. There is no higher experience than santosha. When one draws away all his craving desires like a tortoise drawing in all it limbs, then the natural resplendence of his soul soon manifests itself. When one does not fear any creature, nor any creature is frightened by him, when one conquers one's cravings and aversion, then is one said to behold one's soul. When one, indeed, in word and thought, seeks to injure nobody and cherishes no desire, one is said to attain Brahman (consciousness-bliss)."

—Shanti Parva, Chapter 2

 

Discover santosha by accepting how things are. No wishing for better, or more, or different in order to gain a feeling of content. Choose contentment now: choose to let go of attachment and aversion, you have the power to cultivate santosha!

Mantras for Santosha:

I am grateful for what I have and for what I do not have.

I learn from the joys and challenges life brings me.

I choose to honor the good in myself and others.

I choose to refrain from criticism of myself and others.

 

Meditation for Santosha:

Find a comfortable position (sitting or lying).

Notice how you feel – physically, mentally, emotionally.

Locate where in your body/mind you feel a sense of wellness and ease.

Nourish this sense of well-being.

Your single pointed focus is on: Nourishing Your Sense of Well-being.

Yoga Thoughts for Easter

Easter means many things to many people, I love seeing and hearing about the different ways in which people celebrate. Whether you’re Christian, Pagan or just someone who loves chocolate and long weekends, there’s something in it for you and you can choose your own adventure as to how you celebrate (or not).

The traditional Indian Yogis would have payed no attention to Easter- it wasn't part of their culture, but being in a western culture, we're immersed in it, chocolate stacks in supermarkets make sure we know it's coming.  In recognition of this (Easter, not the chocolate) I'm bringing Easter to the Yoga Room this week (ok, there might be chocolate). And below I'm sharing some Steiner inspired Easter celebration ideas that I've been loving exploring with my two and a half year old son.

 

Easter in the Yoga Room

At the heart of Easter I personally have a strong sense of two themes: Sacrifice and Fertility/ Renewal.

In this week’s classes I’ll be working with one of either of these themes as the anchor for our practice.

On Sacrifice.

What does that look like through the lens of yoga? In the Christian tradition, people give up things for Lent like meat, chocolate or bad words, as a reminder of God sacrificing his son for the sins of humanity. This story doesn’t resonate with me, but if my students want to meditate on this as they practice yoga, I welcome it, after all we are in the age of hybrid experience, and yoga has no religion.

In my teachings I will offer the exploration of Tapas, which is one of the ‘observances’ or Niyamas, a set of guidelines for how we related to others and the world as outlined in the 8-Limbs of Yoga.

In Sanskrit ‘Tap’, means ‘to burn’ so Tapas translates simply to ‘fiery discipline' - the burning effort required to purify the mind, body and spirit for a higher goal- also talked about as ‘Spiritual Discipline’. Many people think of Tapas as the driving quality of seemingly indefatigable folk who tackle challenges and difficulties relentless get up and go. But difficulty doesn’t always equal discipline; sweating our butts off to get fit, repent or burn up our short comings, or ‘sins’ isn’t necessarily tapas. And remember to always play with fire, means we are also in danger of burning up and burning out!

I love how Judith Lasater talks about tapas:

“A better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day—or forgiving your mate or your child for the 10,000th time. If you think of tapas in this vein, it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana.”- Judith Lasater.

To be disciplined is inherently to make sacrifices, to put a higher outcome or purpose above out immediate complains, laziness or excuses.

On Fertility and Renewal

I’ll talk about how this theme relates to Tapas as well, but from a slightly different angle. Resetting our focus on personal and spiritual discipline clears the clutter and establishes a fertile ground from which we can grow into the life we desire and burn up what we don’t need anymore. 

Whether your challenge is a physical discipline like committing to exercise in pregnancy (which I know all about at the moment, I rarely actually ‘feel’ like it!) or procrastinating work/ unpleasant tasks, or a mental discipline-- controlling technology addiction, or the mental ripples of harmful negative thoughts; we will succeed when we focus on the purpose or the outcome which we are seeking, rather than becoming fixated on the many excuses we create for not doing. Everyday is a chance to renew; to reset our goals, restate our commitment and create the life we are seeking for ourselves.


Happy Easter to you, however you are celebrating!