I spend a fair amount of time contemplating the world that the classical and tantric texts arose from so that I can find context for the teachings and uncover how they might fit into my post-modern mind. Lately, I’ve been wrestling with the practice of Santosha. Taken from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Santosha (contentment) is one of the Niyamas of the 8 limbs of Yoga.
There is a feeling among my students and friends that our world today is crashing, roiling, and imploding. I’ve heard many people voice concerns over a suggested practice like contentment in a time where they feel action and change are required for our very survival. That sentiment is valid, however, the world during the period of Classical Yoga was not some better time where racism, classism, sexism, and mindless dogma didn’t exist. While people of that time were more bound to the cycle of nature and less inundated by streaming distraction pumped in on screens of all sizes, life was brutal, and short, and defined by their birthright or lack there of. Human suffering and isolation, the complexities of of the psyche, were front and center in their lived experience. Just like us. The shit has always been hitting the proverbial fan. If this is true, then Santosha might still be a purposeful practice if we can understand it.
I have heard and even mistakenly described Santosha as a practice of acceptance of what is, a practice of making peace with our external circumstances. This view is fundamentally flawed. The outer world is full of circumstances that create suffering, that wreak havoc on people and the planet. We should perceive these circumstances as problematic. We should feel concern. We can act on that concern. The practice of Santosha, when clearly understood, can help us act more skilfully with the external world.
Contentment is defined as satisfaction, fullness, and a feeling of completeness. In general that feeling of fullness is often associated with fleeting external circumstances, but it doesn’t need to be. The practice of Santosha is a remembering, evoking, and acknowledging of our innate wholeness that is not dependent on any thing outside of our selves. Contentment isn’t something that we do, it is a feeling state, an internal ok-ness that is neither given nor taken away by anyone or anything. We can carry our basic wholeness into all circumstances and find ourselves less driven by fear and lack on a core level. Confrontation can become co-creation and cooperation when navigating problems in the structure and organization of our society. We can be content inside ourselves and work with discontent outside of ourselves. We can say I’m ok, yet this is not ok.
I am complete regardless of external circumstances which will rise and fall away.
Now, by all means, go out there and save the world, but don’t do it because you’re broken. You are not a problem that needs to be fixed.