Dear Yoga Friend,
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of practicing yoga is the cultivation of Samtosha, or Contentment. After all, we live within a capitalistic economic system, whose engine is based on consumption. In other words, advertisers are constantly driving us to be discontent with what we have, so that we will consume more and keep the engine running.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have this sage advice: samtosha anuttamah sukha labhah.
Translation: from an attitude of contentment, supreme Joy is attained.
A teacher named Mehtab commented on this sutra: "First understand what contentment is. It is not happiness but a condition for happiness. It is not complacency or just saying 'oh, whatever' - instead it is serenity and acceptance of whatever is." Judith Lasater, a prominent American teacher, said: "This verse states several important things. First, that happiness is indeed obtainable. ... Secondly, the way to happiness is to follow the path of contentment. Contentment is not a sissy concept. In order to be content, one must have won and lost, gained and given up. been up and been down. In order to be content, one must have lived life fully."
As I reflected on Samtosha this past month, I came to realize that for people like me who are in the third quarter of life (i.e. over 50), growing older is a good thing. If anything, as I've gotten older, I've come to see that I can't have everything I want. Really all I need are the important things, like meaningful work, a good-enough income, enough free time to spend doing things I love doing, and enough quality time to spend with my partner, Ed. When I was younger in my stage-of-the-ego years, I wanted the moon and the stars. Now I am more content to simply have what I have here on earth.
As I wove contentment practice into my life this past month, it took shape in several important ways. For one thing, I valued my sleep time more and I made sure to be in bed for at least 8 hours each night. During the days, I distinguished better between the urgent and the important, and just tried to accomplish the urgent. I learned that some things are really not as important as they seem to be to my ego, which wants to accomplish everything. I must say, 8 hours in bed feels really good.
Contentment manifested itself in other ways in my life. Some days I didn't have time to sit for my morning 20 minute meditation practices. So instead I took it on the road, doing walking meditations on my way to my first classes in the mornings. It actually felt nice to walk mindfully on the sidewalks and sit mindfully in the subways. I got to be more fully present for people I met along the way, and I got to send more metta (loving-kindness) silently to more strangers along the way. It felt nice not to have my mind preoccupied with my cell phone and emails during some of my commutes. I felt contentment.
With our nation's political world being gripped by this very strange election cycle, I practiced contentment by not feeling the need to keep up with every twist and turn. I must say it is soothing for my mind not to be bombarded by the bombast.
The Buddha famously said: "Contentment is the greatest wealth." I think that is something that only one who has lived a full life can understand and I am just now starting to see what he meant by that. If the promise of yoga is to help us to live happier lives, then, according to the yoga sutras, it starts first with cultivating contentment.
I hope that contentment, followed by happiness, can take hold and manifest itself in many wonderful ways in your life.
May you be happy, ...
May you dwell in your heart, ...
May your mind return to a state of contentment over and over again, ...
... for the benefit of all Beings everywhere.
With Metta and Aloha,
Paul Keoni Chun