Episode 26: "Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." This verse from the Tao Te Ching reminds us of the importance of one of yoga's key practices: Santosha or contentment. Join me in this episode and learn why this nectar of spiritual development remains so elusive for many—and how to invite it reliably into your life.
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“Rejoice in the way things are. For when you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
This month we've dedicated our yoga practices to exploring the second limb of yoga called Niyama.
It's composed of five practices that relate to how we conduct ourselves in the world. Of course, all of them are designed to bring more peace and harmony into our lives.
Now, this week, it's all about the second Niyama called Santosha.
Santosha translates as contentment, which is why this quote from the Tao Te Ching seems particularly relevant: because in a manner of speaking, it is true that when you realize that nothing is lacking, the whole world does belong to you, or at least it feels like it. And this is why Santosha, or again, contentment is such an important and powerfully transformative practice.
But it's one, I'll admit, that eluded me for, well, for years, and that was all because I was making one of the most common mistakes. I was thinking that the practice of contentment was actually about being content, and it's not quite that simple.
Let me explain.
You see, here's the funny thing.
Everyone knows what contentment is, that feeling of ease, that feeling of inner peace and quiet fulfillment.
But even though we're crystal clear on what contentment is, try as we might, very few of us have been able to invite it into our lives in a consistent and lasting way.
And believe it or not, having some scripture or spiritual teacher or clergymen, impatiently, stomping their foot and chiding you to “be more content, dammit!” seems to do little or nothing to help.
But there is a secret, it turns out, to finding contentment and finding it right here in the middle of the life that you've got. And it all starts with understanding a little something about what contentment really is.
Here's what you need to know. Contentment is not a thing.
That is not to say it doesn't exist, it's just to say that describing contentment as some “thing” is far less helpful and accurate than describing it as an absence of some “thing” else.
And that something else just happens to be internal disturbances like anxiety, or craving, or desire, or fear, or worry.
I mean, think about it. When you're craving something, when you're afraid of something, when you're worried about something, would you say that you were content? And of course, the answer is no.
But when those kinds of thoughts and feelings go on their way, and you're left with a sense of calm, inner peace and satisfaction.
You would say that you were then content? You bet you would.
And that's all because when we eliminate these kinds of internal disturbances, we are left with contentment. Contentment is the absence of internal disturbance.
And truly it's a lot like health—because health too isn't some thing as much as it is an absence of something else.
In the case of health, it's the absence of disease and when we get rid of the disease, we are left with health.
And in the very same way, when we get rid of our dis-ease are left with content. And that's why one might argue that both health and contentment are our natural states. They are our states of being before we clutter everything up with all sorts of various kinds of dis-ease.
Now, what this means is that when it comes to contentment, or again in yoga speak, Santosha, our work is not to chase or create or manufacture contentment as much as it is to simply stop the inner disturbances that obscure it.
Stop the inner disturbances that obstruct contentment. Sounds simple enough.
That is right up until the point that you give it two seconds of thought on how to do that—and it’s then that it gets, well, let's just say a little more murky. And again, I'll admit it was for me too. That is until I started thinking in terms of where these disturbances actually come from.
And the fact is that disturbing thoughts and disturbing emotions and disturbing feelings, the ones that obscure our contentment are actually manufactured in the brain and the nervous system. Largely through mental habits, habits that, and this is the important part, can be changed.
Now, the even better news is that there are really only a handful of these mental habits that contribute to the vast majority of disturbing thoughts and emotion.
I'm talking about things like the habit of mercilessly judging yourself and everything in everybody around you.
Or the habit of indulging in self-sabotaging, mental narratives that try to convince you of your unworthiness or your powerlessness.
Or the habit of looking at the world through a series of invisible limiting beliefs that obscure your true potential and keep you feeling stuck.
Or even, the granddaddy of them all is the habit of comparison. That is to say, comparing how things are in any given moment to the mind’s fantasy of how they should be.
Here's a perfect example of how it works, and this all happened about 20 years ago.
I had just purchased a beautiful white Audi, A4, a 2001 model.
It was by far the nicest car I had ever owned. It had great lines. It was super comfortable. It was zippy. It handled like a dream, and had the most amazing sound system I ever laid my ears on. I loved it.
In fact, every day when I sat down in the car, I closed the door with that satisfying clunk, it brought a little smile to my face.
And when I had to go somewhere, it didn't feel like I had to drive. It felt like I got to drive.
But then one day I pulled up to a red light just a few blocks down the road from Yoga Pura. As I slowed to a stop, I noticed the car in front of me was also an Audi A4. “Cool!” I thought. “an Audi brother!”
But wait, I started to notice something different.
This was a 2002 Audi A4, and it had been redesigned.
The trunk was somehow sleeker, cooler. And the tail pipes…oh the tail pipes.
That Audi had two tailpipes symmetrically positioned just beneath each taillight. And wait. “Are those chrome tips? They sure are!”
Cool trunk twin tailpipes symmetrically mounted and with chrome tailpipe tips, my mind immediately started comparing my pitiful ugly trunk and my grungy single brown asymmetrically mounted tailpipe with this piece of art that was staring me in the face.
And instantly I wanted a new car.
That's right. As I sat there at that red light, my mind had gone from totally loving my car to being absolutely over it and scheming about how I was gonna get my hands on a new 2002 model.
From satisfied and content to disappointed and desirous in 30 seconds.
All due to the mind's habit of comparison.
Now I get it. This is undeniably a ridiculous example, but it is a clear example of how the mind's habit of comparison, a habit that is for most of us, largely unconscious…how it's working against us all the time.
It's working on us in our relationships. It's working on us with our finances, it's working on us with our health and wellness, and even it's working on us with our spirituality.
It's silently poisoning our experiences with everything from disappointment to frustration and from desire to anxiety.
And even worse, as this is all silently happening in the background of our minds, most of us remain convinced that it's our environment or our circumstances that are at fault, which of course is what keeps us stuck in more of the same.
But here's the good news…
When we put the brakes on that. We're also putting the brakes on all of those disturbances. And as such, we allow contentment, our natural state, to shine through more and more of the time.
So how exactly do we go about stopping the pernicious mental habit of comparison?
Well, here's what you don't do.
And that is to compare your comparing mind to your mind's idea of a non-comparing mind, and then go to work trying to fix your comparing mind, all the while comparing your mind to your imagined non-comparing mind, and by doing so, filling yourself full of the very disturbing thoughts and emotions that you're trying to put an end to.
And yet that is exactly what too many of us do.
But there is a better way.
And that is to simply observe the habit of mental comparison together with, and here's the critical part, the negative consequences that arise as a result of the comparing habit.
You see, here's what we need to realize. The body mind is a kind of relief seeking mechanism.
That is to say, it is always wanting to move away from discomfort and disturbances. It's instinct.
And that’s true whether we're talking about the discomfort of hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of loneliness or anxiety, or the discomfort of cravings or urges.
The fact is the mind is constantly making effort to move away from mental and emotional discomfort of every kind.
The trouble is that most of us aren't consciously aware of how our comparison is filling us full of the very disturbing thoughts and emotions the mind is so keen on avoiding—which is why we remain stuck in a loop.
When it becomes clear that this heretofore unexamined habit of comparison is at fault.
That it is comparison is the culprit that's causing the very thoughts and emotions that we want to be rid of….
It's then that we've made our first steps toward meaningful transformation.
Because as the mind becomes more aware of the habit together with the unsavory consequences of that habit, the mind becomes decidedly less and less interested in fueling it.
And the hait of comparison actually begins to weaken, leaving us more content more of the time.
Now, as a quick side note, this is not to say that all comparison is a bad thing. The fact is that comparison does serve us much of the time. I mean, when you're thirsty, it's comparison that helps you decide to take a long swig from the bottle of Gatorade instead of the bottle of Drano.
So, we are certainly not out to eliminate comparison completely, it's just the comparison that is not serving us.
We’re talking about that constant judgment going on in the background 24 7 on topics that do nothing for us other than to diminish our wellbeing and obscure our natural contentment.
So, the invitation becomes to start by simply noticing: noticing the habit of comparison together with its harmful consequences.
And so, the next time you find yourself dissatisfied, or frustrated, or yearning for things to be different from how they are...
Trace it back and look for the idea or the vision of an alternative reality that the mind's habit of comparison has conjured up.
And then ask yourself how much more at ease? How much more peaceful? how much more content would I be in this moment without that comparison?
And then take a breath, let go of the idea that things could be different for now, and allow yourself to relax into the moment.
Then watch as the effortless nourishment of your natural state of contentment begins to shine through.
Well, that's it for this episode.
I'm hopeful that our exploration of yoga's practice of Santosha will help you bring more and more contentment into your life.
As always, thanks for listening, and please remember that this podcast is made possible only by the generosity of listeners like you. So please, if you can support me with a small donation over on my Patreon page, it would mean the world to me and so many others who this work serves.
You can check it out now at www.patreon.com/ericwal
And finally, if these kinds of teachings are something you would like more of in your life, consider joining us in the online Bright Life Yoga Collective, where each week you'll join me to go even deeper with this ancient wisdom and practices.
You can learn more on my website www.ericwal.com.
Thanks again, and remember, I'm here to serve. So, if you have suggestions for future episodes, I'd love to hear them.
I'm wishing you a week overflowing with calm and contentment. I'll see you next time.
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