Perennial Theme: Contentment

Neighborhood Community Garden, W 48 St.

Neighborhood Community Garden, W 48 St.

Going through my neighborhood community garden, I happened on this bee pollinating this flower. To me, it was the picture of contentment, as it was just going about doing what bees do.

One of the most important parts of practicing yoga is cultivating contentment, both on and off the mat. In some ways, becoming increasingly more content in life is more important than increasing one's ability to stand on one's head. The latter might be a means toward the former, but always remember the former is more important, and in some ways the more difficult to practice.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state: santosha anuttamah sukha labhah (Chapter 2, Verse 42). Swami J translatesFrom an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.

And, no less a great authority on happiness than the Buddha stated: “Contentment is the greatest wealth.” (Dhammapada 204) Every so often I think it's important to remind ourselves of this -- something we all know but in midst of our habituated desires for more material wealth, often forget.

As I thought about people in the world who seem to be content, one major figure came to mind -- Warren Buffett. He is one of the richest people -- in terms of financial wealth -- on the planet. Yet, he said: “I learned that I can still be happy with half as much.” Maybe that's one reason he got to be so wealthy. As I shared in last month's blog, he said he doesn't need a lot of fancy things to be happy, and he genuinely seems to be happy and content. The lesson I derived from him is that one need not take extraordinary risks and constantly try to satisfy one's ego for more in order to be happy, and even to derive more wealth. He is truly an example of how needing less can lead to more.

Conversely, Donald Trump strikes me as someone who is not content with half as much. Just saying. And if you compare the material wealth of both (as far as we know), Warren Buffett seems to be far ahead.

Another person important in my own life who is content with less is my partner, Ed. He's always telling me, "I don't need the fanciest this or that." He finds contentment in simple things, like tending to his garden or spending weekends watching a good movie or a nature show at home. He definitely keeps me in check.

Creating contentment is a gradual process, for sure. The Buddhist meditation teacher, Tempel Smith, suggested that one "incline the mind towards contentment over dissatisfaction.” I like that. It suggests that in those moments when it is easy to be dissatisfied with the way things are that one just try - gently - to move one's mind in the direction of contentment. 

I will admit - this past month I really struggled with cultivating contentment in my own life. Part of my challenge was that I had an unbelievably and unusually high work load and a number of personal obligations. I find it difficult to keep my mind in a state of equanimous contentment when I have too much going on. But now, as I see a little more light at the end of my "work" tunnel, my mind has eased up a bit, and I am beginning again to feel more content. I've come to feel that I can be content with less work -- and thus income -- if it means having more free time to do quiet, simple things. 

I know our 24/7 capitalistic culture reveres being busy, busy. I am learning, day by day, that's not necessarily a good thing.

May you have the space to start your days from an attitude of contentment.
May you be content with half as much.
May your mind gently be inclined toward contentment and away from dissatisfaction.
May you be happy and content, for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

With Aloha and Metta,
Paul Keoni