There is a concept in yoga that I have struggled with for years. Santosa, or contentment, simultaneously makes perfect sense and yet completely baffles me at the same time.

On the one hand contentment seems completely called for. To me it translates into not being greedy, to feeling satisfied with the amount of money, power, and esteem we have in life. It makes sense because resources are limited. The opposite of contentment brings to mind Ebenezer Scrooge, from Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol.” The fellow who acquired more and more wealth and essentially sat on it while those around him suffered in poverty. Clearly greed is a bad thing. One only has to look at how the desire to acquire more leads to misery for yourself and for others (ahem Bernie Madoff. May you see the error of your ways and may others learn to forgive you).

At the same time, contentment in the broader sense, such as being satisfied with what’s before you, being satisfied with your lot in life, completely confounds me. I just don’t get it. I obviously beat the drum for change repeatedly. So where does contentment fit into that? How do I reconcile contentment with my constant impulse/desire to improve not only myself but the world around me? How can I feel content with homelessness and yet at the same time work to eradicate it?

I think maybe it has something to do with knowing our limits, knowing how much we, on an individual basis, can accomplish. Yes, I can give the homeless man on the corner a granola bar and no, I am not in a position to build him a house. And while I constantly want to do more, give more, be more, contentment lies in recognizing I can only do so much. Me, in this body, in the position I am currently in, at this moment, can do no more than smile at the homeless man and offer him food.

(As a group however, it’s a different story. United as one is a different matter, which I’ve already written about.)

I think the other piece to contentment is living in the moment and feeling satisfied with the present. This is the hardest part for me. Truly. When I stay present and in the moment I love it, but it’s not my natural inclination. Rather my thoughts are something like this:

“Ugh. Why is it so hot outside? Why can’t it be cooler? This weather is horrible. I wish it was spring. I can’t believe I have to wait so long for spring to come again.”

I find it hard to enjoy what is, to not future trip, and I often wish things were different than they are. I guess I’m saying I think contentment lies in reveling in what is. Enjoying the moment, enjoying the heat, enjoying waiting for the bus, enjoying the situation you are currently in because you’re in it and it’s your life and it’s all you have. Sooo much of my mental energy gets expended on thinking about the future. Worrying, lamenting rather than enjoying what’s before me.

I’ve gotten much better since moving to California, (when you don’t know where you’re living two weeks in advance you learn to live in the moment) but it’s a daily process.

So I don’t know, I guess I reconcile santosa and service just by letting them coexist. Just by trying to feel content and grateful for what I have, content with what I, as an individual can do, and also working to change things little by little.

I dream of a world where everyone feels content and grateful for their lives. Where we work to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us but in a balanced way. I dream of a world where gratitude reigns and where we all truly live our lives because we stick with the moment. Because we savor what is before us. Because we are truly present. I dream of a world where everyone everywhere feels content, feels satisfied, feels joy. I dream of a world where daily we work to fulfill our mission on this Earth and also feel satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. Where we love what we’ve done thus far and also love what we will do in the future. I dream of a world where everyone everywhere wakes up feeling lovely because, oh right, this is life I’m experiencing and life is grand.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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1 comment… add one
  • Kyle Mar 15, 2009, 11:57 pm

    i agree with where i think you arrived at with this post. it is essential for us to always strive to better ourselves and the world, but at the same time it is important to see the beauty in the world as it is, thus the fruits of our previous labor motivate us to keep fighting for good and we dodge despair and bitterness

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