Head Space

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” Buddha

How does one ‘practice’ contentment? Contentment, or Santosha - the second Niyama, seems to be the result of other actions.

It is both the way and the result.

The practice of contentment begins with presence.

Simplified, presence means being aware of where you are, how you feel, what you see, hear, smell, taste, right now, in this moment, without distraction. No monologue about it, no judgment of good or bad, no need to explain it. You are just here. Right now. And all is well. Pure Joy.

Conceptually, it seems easy. In practice, however, the mind inserts itself and opinions into that precious present moment. If we think of thoughts as children just needing a little attention, they can be easier to manage. Just as you may say to a child, “I see you, I’ll be right there, please give me a moment,” you can employ mindfulness techniques to achieve the same result with your thoughts.

Most of us have felt this sense of complete joy. It’s that knowing, that in this moment, all is as it is supposed to be. It may wash over you for no discernable reason, at the strangest time, but you recognize it.

This is contentment by default. You have relaxed enough, let go of preferences and prejudices just long enough, for the doorway to consciousness to open a crack and allow the light to slip through and tap you on the shoulder. “This is the way it always is. This is your true nature,” it is telling you. You believe otherwise.

You think you must do something – work - to create contentment. But contentment cannot be manufactured. Seeking contentment by avoiding anything that feels like its opposite is not the answer. Indeed, striving for what we believe will make us happy and avoiding what we believe will make us unhappy, polarizes us and moves us away from the center where contentment lives – the present moment.

There is nothing to work toward, nothing more to acquire. It is about subtraction. Contentment cannot be found in our things, but it is not necessarily found in letting go of things, either. It is not the things at all, but our attachment to those things. We can give away every single possession we own and still find contentment elusive. But, when we let go of our need to have these things, rather than the physical objects, themselves, we are getting somewhere.

“Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire.” Thomas Fuller.

Contentment can be cultivated, however. It can grow to become more than a random moment of peace that happens to us. It becomes a practice we carry with us, an abiding calm always accessible to us.

Meditation, Yoga Nidra, mindfulness, breath work and gratitude are common ways to cultivate contentment. Each practice is a different door into the same room. It is less about which practice and more about commitment to a practice. They will all work.

So often, when we consider a new practice, we are concerned it will change us. And while we understand that is the point of beginning a new practice, the ego will protect itself – the personality will hold onto beliefs it has constructed to survive. With contentment, there is no need to change. Instead, it is a practice of allowing space and silence to remember your own divine nature. You cannot acquire anything to complete you; you are already complete. You already have everything you need.

As a result, the best aspects of your personality remain while the parts that were protecting perceived vulnerabilities drop away, leaving a shiny new, relaxed version of yourself. This is presence. This is contentment.

“There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment.” Swami Sivananda.

 

 

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Pure

The first of the Niyamas, Saucha, is not fooling around.

In a Yoga Sutra plot twist, this tenet asks us to purify, while at the same time telling us we can never be pure. On one hand, YOU are always pure. Your true nature is consciousness and so will always remain unsullied. On the other hand, YOU are cloaked in a body. The body produces waste creating impurity. Our thoughts are often unclean (or smudgy, at the very least), our environments, less than pristine.

What are we to do?

Saucha asks two things:

1. Remember you are an expression of Divinity – Consciousness – and as such, pure. Remember who YOU are. And if you can’t do that,

2. Cleanse what you can.

This Niyama is giving us the opportunity to live up to our pure divine potential by first recognizing areas of impurity, then addressing them. Before we could reason, spin, lie, cheat, coerce, convince or decide, we were unencumbered by the stickiness of life. We were pure.

Imagine all that has been energetically and physically accumulated up to now. The thoughts and ideas of righteousness that cloud decisions, perceptions and preferences that drive behavior and deeds that linger, waiting to be forgiven or reconciled, all create a barrier between us and divinity.

Or so it would seem.

As divine consciousness itself, none of these things matter. But as a human being, they create a perceived, murky, film that distorts the truth of who we are. This is where we can begin to cleanse.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents enlightenment and purity. It is born underwater, in the muck. As it begins to emerge, it is the same dirty water that cleanses the tightly folded petals of the lotus flower. When nothing but the stem remains under water, the flower opens. The interior of the lotus never gets dirty, it remains pure.

There is nothing to purge; there is only removal of external beliefs and ideas. Anything that doesn’t feel like love needs to be addressed. Feeling separate from others or nature is also a good clue. Unresolved issues create opportunities for clean up.

But this is our work.

As grown ups with thoughts and physical stuff, this is our good, solid work. Knowing we are pure beneath, and without, the detritus of a life lived fully, is really enough. But getting to that knowing can take some work.

We can begin now shifting our thoughts, our deeds and our words to support the divinity we know we are (or believe ourselves to be, if it’s not yet felt as truth). We can create good karma by living cleanly, making choices based on their support of our true nature. And failing that, we can work on whatever feels unresolved. Doing our best work without attachment to the end result. It is not that we need to fix things, we simply need to forgive and allow.

Even ourselves.

There is a depth to Saucha that can only be experienced if pursued with integrity. It is purity, yes, but to arrive there, it is also forgiveness, presence, accepting what is as it is. It is letting go of preconceived ideas, memories that become expectations and the need to be right. It is allowing the cloaks of mental, emotional and physical clutter to drop away, revealing the purity of the spirit that you are.

It is the unveiling of the divinity within.

 

 

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Done Not Doing

The first limb of yoga hands us a list of 5 things we ought not to be doing. They’re all pretty logical:   please don’t harm; don’t steal; don’t lie; don’t overindulge; and don’t hoard.

Hidden in the meanings of each is the fact that we must first not do these things to ourselves. Not in thought, word or deed. Do not think harmful thoughts toward yourself or another. Do not speak harmful words about, or to, yourself, or about, or to, another. And, certainly don’t commit any harmful acts to yourself or another. And so on.

If you can manage all of that on the first Yama alone – Ahimsa, non-harming – you probably don’t have to invest too much more energy. If we’re devoted to not harming, then it would follow that we’re not likely to commit the other four acts.

But there’s so much more richness to uncover.

As we move beyond the Yamas, we step fully into our second limb – Niyama. These are the 5 tenets we do practice. Purity, Contentment, Discipline, Self-study and Surrender to a higher power.

Without first cleansing the mind with the five yamas, we would only be theorizing about the  five niyamas. How can we cultivate contentment, for instance, if we are still attached to our stuff? How can bring discipline into our lives without first moderating all our appetites? Everything fits neatly together.

All lasting traditions have guidelines to live a functional, kind, life. They are all essentially the same; most begin with abstaining from harming other living beings. It’s not really a lot to ask.

“Before you speak let your words pass through three gates;
At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”
At the second ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
-Sufi saying

 

 

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