January’s experiment of the month at Mudita lab was Santosha, which can be translated as contentment. Santosha is deep stuff! A blog post can’t truly do it justice but if you didn’t get a chance to take part in the exploration with us, perhaps this bite will inspire you to check it out for yourself. I highly recommend it.
Normally when I think of contentment, I think of happiness and instead, what I have discovered throughout this exploration is that Santosha is something much more profound than mere happiness and that much less is required to access it. In my imagining of “happiness”, I have all that I want and need and everything in my life is going more or less the way I want it to. In my experience of Santosha, all of these conditions can be absent and yet I can still glimpse and even hold the peace of Santosha in my heart for moments. With practice, I suspect these moments can be extended longer and longer. Opportunities for practicing Santosha are available in the most ordinary of circumstances.
The other day, I caught sight of my hair in the mirror and observed myself thinking how I hate my hair, its fine texture and its straightness. In practicing Santosha, I notice my aversion to my hair. I catch myself in this aversion and then I simply let go of it in the moment, like we let go of thoughts in meditation. In the pause, I can move into acceptance of the reality of my hair, as it is. In this simple shift, a door opens to contentment and to not wanting or needing to change anything but surrendering and accepting things as they are. If I walk through that door, I am welcomed into a warm feeling of ease, an exhale of relief at not having to fight with reality and being stuck in unhappiness over that which I cannot change. A sweet feeling of satisfaction is my reward.
In another instance this month, I found myself bristling at the cold and thinking how I can’t wait for the spring. I’m often thinking about all the things I can’t wait for. How many times do we say that we can’t wait for something? All too often we are waiting for joy or peace and chasing the conditions we believe will create it, but real and lasting joy can only spring from within, never from external conditions. This month, I heard that thought differently in my mind and realized that to not be able to wait means to not be able to stay in the here and now; it means I can’t be present until it warms up outside! Upon noticing that irrational thought and the aversion and craving contained within it, I realized that I can wait and in fact I must wait. In the meantime, I can choose; choose to stay and breathe and be satisfied with the reality before me and maybe even find a little gratitude. That brings me into the equanimity and comfort of Santosha once again.
Now don’t go worrying that you’ll never be motivated to do anything ever again if you’re just sitting around all satisfied and content for the rest of your life. With practice, you will come to see that you can use Santosha skillfully, where and when it’s needed. So instead of making new year’s resolutions this year about all the things you’ll change or do in order to be happy, perhaps try the simple practice of Santosha instead. It continues to be a rich and rewarding inquiry for me and keeps me on the path towards peace.