In modern times, we are bombarded with cultural and familial messages that aim to stir our discontent. There are thousands of advertisements on television and in other media including magazines, movies, books, and newspapers, telling us that we can have more, achieve more, and be more. Doesn’t the army tell us, “Be all that you can be?” How about the message of consumerism, where once it was just the way of First World countries, it is now global and poses a serious threat to the health of the planet. One would think that enough is enough, but our yogic principles often come crashing down in the face of cultural messages we have been programmed with since early childhood. On the one hand, we try to practice detachment, knowing that all things are impermanent, and on the other we long for romance, wealth, power and adventure. So, where does this leave us, with so many contradictory messages?
Santosha is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘ease of heart’ or ‘heartfelt gratitude and acceptance.’ It is contentment with things just as they are. As long as we are longing for something else, some other person, place, or situation, we cannot actually be happy. Our minds cannot be tranquil and we cannot eventually achieve enlightenment, or a disassociation to the ego.
Some say Santosha can be found by writing in a gratitude journal, by actually looking at all we have on a piece of paper, seeing things in black and white. Others say, we renounce the world and desire nothing thereby avoiding the dangers of discontent completely. Whenever feelings of lust, desire, and longing arise, we simply acknowledge them and go about our business. Some of us have confused Santosha with apathy, or complacency, submission and aloofness, but these are the immature children of true contentment. We can renounce the world or write pages and pages of things to be thankful for, and either of these suggestions is appropriate, but there is another way to develop Santosha. Santosha is really just a discipline. Everytime we are wishing for another lover or another car or a different circumstance, we are in essence, attempting an escape from things as they truly are. It is only when we are willing to look deeply into our current situations that we can find the seeds of wisdom within them.
Let us look at a relationship, for example. Most people find great joy when they fall in love. Love is one of the highest feelings human beings can have. In fact, Love is an expression of God. That feeling we have when we fall in love is a yearning for God that is being fulfilled temporarily in another person via a romantic feeling. Our hearts become full. Our minds become elevated so that we can only seem to see the wonderful things about that person. All that person’s faults become minimized. As far as you are concerned the sun rises and sets in their eyes. And this is not far from the truth. You are able to get a glimpse of Universal Compassionate Love through the romantic experience. The problem for most people is that all those feelings soon start to fade. We start to yearn for someone else. We start to think that another partner besides the one we already have will make us happier. We don’t feel that same rush, adrenaline and excitement of falling in love when the relationship was still new. The problem with those feelings is that they take us out of the NOW. We start to fantasize, perhaps, about a new relationship or another person, and we are no longer fully present for the relationship we are currently in. We start to loose our “God-vision” or “Love-vision” and see the faults of our partner more often than their good qualities. We start to create an environment ripe for animosity, resentment, and any other number of emotions that are far from compassionate. When we develop Santosha, we look at the situation as it is and realize that by wishing for something different we are really making our happiness an impossibility. We are taking ourselves out of the moment, we are no longer fuly present, and our partner feels this. We realize that we are creating our own reality with our perception, thoughts and actions.
So what do we do? We can take a walk in nature and pay attention. We can meditate, do yoga, and breathe more deeply, but none of these things will make much difference if we don’t have an understanding of what wishful thinking and longing really are. These are not to be confused with action. I am not telling you to sit on your sofa and accept war, genocide and crime carry on. I am saying to find your center and be truly grateful for what you have and then act in alignment with your higher self. The lower, ego-driven self, will find a million reasons why your life is not right, why you cannot be happy, why you are not smart enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, young enough, hip enough, popular enough, happy enough. The next time you find your mind wandering into the future, just be aware that it is doing so and ask yourself what you are trying to escape from right here and now. What are you avoiding dealing with so that you can find happiness right here in this moment, with the circumstances and people in your life just as they are. Perhaps action is required, but more than likely it is not the action you initially thought about – the action playing out in your mind in that fantasy. Perhaps you have avoided developing a certain side of yourself that you long for in another. Perhaps you have different work to do, or even should be working less. Your longing for adventure can sometimes be as simple as the need to delve deeper within.
Once a greater sense of Santosha or contentment is realized, you will find that your emotional maturity has skyrocketed. You will find you have fewer dramatic mood swings. You will be able to deal with stressful situations with more ease and grace. You will no longer act out of selfishness, but consider yourself as an integral part of a community. Your actions affect everyone around you and you realize this and see it as a blessing rather than a burden. No matter your challenges, developing Santosha is a great life skill. We are living in a time of great upheaval. Pandora’s Box has surely been opened, and we cannot close the lid, but we can certainly develop an inner grace and ease of heart that allows the winds of change to blow without pushing us over.