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Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Santosha: Contentment

This second of the Niyamas is one of my favorite practices to work with, primarily because so much of our culture actually encourages just the opposite! Everywhere we turn we are encouraged not to be content or satisfied with what we have, or are, but to get the "new" and improved" version OR to create the "new" and "improved" version of ourselves. And yet, ironically, this conditioning that we somehow are lacking in inherent worth, or that "things" can somehow make us happier is perhaps the most insidious cause of our discontent!

In asana class, I often point out the interbeing quality of the Yamas and Niyamas by showing how often, while in a posture, we may berate ourselves for not going as far into the stretch as we woudl like to go; or as far as the practitioner across from us is able to go; or simply as far as we think we should be able to go. This inner criticism is harmful in itself, but rarely do we stop with mere criticism. We push ourselves, ignoring the wisdom of the body and cause a real, physical injury. So, by not honoring the TRUTH (Satya) of our particular reality, we do not allow ourselves to rest CONTENT with what we can do (Santosha), and so aggresss against ourselves and cause HARM to ourselves (Ahimsa).

Samtosha is another way of describing acceptance, which is how we practice non-attachment. And there are LOTS of misconceptions regarding these teachngs. Non-attachment is precisely NOT unconcern or the lack of feeling. It is, merely and simply, the absolute non-rejection of what is. Therefore, it is the wholehearted willingness to admit that things are just as they are. Things are not the way you want them (all the time) and never will be. Acceptance means the ability to stay open and fully present to things just as they are. This doesn't imply anything about whether things can or should be changed. It simply means first, you got to see what's what, and not get caught in projecting your views and opinions on how things are.

So Samtosha can be seen as the application of a wonderful Zen practice called, "Just this." Keep looking at all that enters your life -- people, events, thoughts and feelings as "just this." Not what you'd rather have or be able to do, but "just this." Not adding to the bare experience but "just this." Like the famous haiku by Bassho.

The old pond.
A frog jumps in.

No drama or extranous symbolic projection onto the bare experience. And yet, how rich! Just this IS enough!

Beyond mere contentment, we in sangha the last three weeks have looked into the practice and meaning of Gratitude. Not simply being content with what is what, but being grateful for it! The August 2002 copy of Yoga Journal has a wonderful article on gratutde by Phillip Moffitt I encourage you to read. He makes it wonderfully clear -- and inspiring to contemplate -- how the cultivation and practice of gratitude cultivates a mind that stays open so that you can enter ever more fully and freely into life.

One practice he encourages is one I have used in my life and in my counseling others. It is based on the psychological truth that the mind tends to take for granted what is pleasant and present because the mind by its very nature wants constant stimulation, and that which is pleasant and present all too soon ceases to really stimulate. You can verify this for yourself. Have you ever noticed how nothing matches that first sip of morning coffee? Or the first few bites of that luscious chocolate brownie? Then, how soon the mind grows "jaded" and ceases to really register the pleasant sensations of the last sips of that coffee. Or the last bits of the brownie. Indeed, they hardly seem so pleasant anymore. And you're off looking for the next big sensation. "Maybe another cup of coffee? Maybe this one with some mocha and foam?" And this is the same with everything -- from the refreshing coolness of a breeze on a hot, humid day, to the smell of the rain-drenched air, to the smile of your beloved. In many of my marriage ceremonies I point out how all too easy it is to forget the joy and wonder the couple feel in each other on their wedding day as the days and years flow by. I ask them, as soon as either of them notices the tendency to take each other for granted arise, to "stop" and "look deeply," which is really the practice of shamatha-vippasana. A mind established in mindfulness will stay awake and be present -- and in presence is gratitude.

Moffitt points out that "gratitude" and "grace" share a common origin in the Latin gratus. When you are in a sincere state of gratitude, you are in a state of grace. The mere fact that you have this precious human birth, with the ability to live a conscious life is grace -- no matter what difficulties you may be facing. Moffitt writes, "This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know 'this moment is like this,' is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows." The wonder and the mystery is that you, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, have been given this opportunity to directly know life. However you find life to be, you do have this great gift of being able to experience and know it firsthand. But if we ignore what is, and get caught in our opinions (which have more than likely been passed onto us by others) than it is as if we were dead already.

One practice Thich Nhat Hanh has offered is to make a list every evening, maybe before bed, of those "things" in your life that you are grateful for. At first, your mind may present you with the "biggies" and the most obvious, but stay with it and see if the small, simple things don't make the list. In a wonderful line from Vanilla Sky (a dharmic movie if ever there was one!) a character says something like, "The small things are the big things."

If you are so inclined, please share some of the things you are grateful by e-mailing to this web site, or by joining the Karuna E-Group.

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 11:35 AM

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