Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it great?
Isn’t it swell? Isn’t it fun?
Isn’t it? Nowadays….”
– “Nowadays” from the musical Chicago
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Never give up. Go get ‘em, Tiger. Don’t take no for an answer. Show ‘em what you’re made of. Do your best. No, wait do better. And never, never, never admit defeat. You are the master of your destiny. If you fail, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.
You’re not alone.
These are mantras our busy-for-the-sake-of-being-busy culture that have been drummed into our heads from the time we learned to spell. Frankly, it isn’t that they are all that bad in and of themselves. It isn’t wrong to go after the things you want in life. It can be helpful to cultivate healthy self-reliance. And independence is one of the most coveted qualities for those in the world who do not have it, and one we all too often take for granted in parts of the world that do.
The problem is not that we seek to improve ourselves and our life situation. The problem is that we do so without a healthy sense of “enough-ness”.
Making peace with the moment at hand.
From a yogic perspective, Santosha is that sense of enough-ness. Santosha means “contentment”. It is one of the five Niyamas, which are the suggestions of self-governing behaviors discussed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The contentment indicated by Santosha is not an “everything is going to be okay” or “well, let’s just wait and see, dear” type of contentment. Santosha is a deep and abiding acceptance that everything is as it should be in this moment. If we can be at peace with the moment at hand, we will be content. We are practicing santosha.
That does not mean that everything in the present moment is hunky-dory. If we are in pain, if the world around us is chaotic, clearly all is not well. Santosha is not sitting on our laurels with a smile on our face while our lives fall apart and the world goes to hell in a handbasket. No, that is what we call denial. Tapas is the next of the Niyamas and it means “burnings discipline”. Tapas gives us the energy required to initiate change. However, when we are panicked and distressed, we cannot think clearly about the changes that need to be made. We are impulsive and likely to make poor decisions. We must make peace with things as they are before we can discern and take right action.
Santosha is a counter-cultural practice.
In this country, our economy is largely based on identifying our flaws and convincing us that something outside of ourselves will solve them. Thus, it is indeed counter-cultural to sustain a santosha practice by believing we are enough. However, to be empowered, self-actualized human beings capable of creating and bringing forth into the world that which we truly desire (not what we are told we should desire), this is exactly what we must do.
One way to become accustomed to this new mindset is notice the areas of our lives where we feel we are lacking. How often do we view our lives as not being enough? We will put more effort into our job when we get a promotion. We will spruce up our home when we have a bigger one or live in a better part of town. We will love our body when we lose the weight or are no longer experiencing dis-ease. We will go to social functions when we finally are able to surround ourselves with people of “like mind”.
Is it any surprise we do not feel content with our lives?
The first step towards santosha, contentment with things as they are, is gratitude. We must realize that the job we have is enough. The home we have is enough. The body we have, even when we are sick, is enough. And the people who are standing directly in front of us are the people who matter the most right now.
Do you want to make your dreams come true? Then love your life as it is in this moment. Be grateful for it. When you approach your life with santosha, a sense of contentment, you will be able to create and sustain positive, appropriate changes from a place of peace and equanimity, rather than disappointment and grasping for something that may not even be yours to take. Most importantly, in a world that would have you believe otherwise, remember that you are enough.