One of the hardest practices of the eight-runged process of the Royal (Raja) Yoga path is “santosha,” which is translated as “contentment.” Being content and not having any disturbance in our mind and soul is especially challenging in our day and age of mass murders in Texas and Las Vegas, or hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and fires in California that destroy homes and livelihoods, or wars that never seen to end or global tensions that never seem to be quelled with conciliatory and non-inflammatory rhetoric.
Humans all over the globe, live in fear-producing environments.
What does the yoga lifestyle of “ahimsa” (non-violence, non-harming) suggest that we do? Besides restraining from (yama) harming thoughts, words, and actions, the Yoga Tradition asks us to observe (niyama) “santosha,” that is, “contentment that is not complacent.” We are to not only not let all the suffering that happens in our world disturb our spirit and disrupt our awareness of and contact with the Divine, Infinite, and Perfect (DIP) core of our being, but we also are to actively pursue that peaceful, loving core. We are to actively remain content in mind and spirit. This contentment will help us discern what it is that we must do regarding the current situation.
Yoga says that contacting that core will rid us of the fear that is inevitable if we focus our attention on the killings, or the destruction, or the saber-rattling. When we allow our mind to focus on those negative events, they raise the horrible awareness of the precariousness of our physical lives and trigger our ultimate fear—death.
So, what does yoga say we must do?
We must act with knowledge (vidya), not ignorance (avidya). We must work hard (abhyasa) to fill the current situation/time with the presence of the Divine, Infinite, and Perfect. We must do all we can (abhyasa) to nurture that presence of love and peace and truth (satya) in ourselves, in our families, in our work places, in our churches, in our cities, in our state, in our country, and in our planet. We must make the effort (abhyasa) to resolve the tensions between different political opinions, between different religious traditions, between different parts of the world, between any experience of “opposites.”
Yet contentment also means that we realize that the ultimate consequences of all our efforts are not in our hands, but in the hands of the Source of Life, that Consciousness guiding all of reality, which many English-speaking people call “God.” We must surrender (vairagya) the fruits of our hard work (abhyasa) to that ever-present, compassionate reality.
First, we start with ourselves, by bringing ourselves to that peaceful, loving reality inside ourselves. I long for us to fall in love with our life source by falling in love with the breath in our nostrils and staying with that loving breath for at least 10 or 15 minutes a day.
Being aware of the loving presence of our breath will bring us dramatic and palpable contentment even in the midst of the madness of our culture.
I remember what it was like to fall in love with my beloved spouse, Mary, when we were in college. It was as though I could do extraordinarily wonderful deeds. I didn’t need sleep. I didn’t need food. I was propelled to study more and better. I was absolutely aware of my world and the needs around me, especially Mary’s needs. I became kinder, gentler, energized and a true servant of those in need. That love experience was (and still is) transformative. I was absolutely content with all of life because I was aware of the Presence of Purpose all around me. I was aware of the Presence of the Beloved all around me.
This elated experience of contentment with life and all that it involved was the consequence of falling in love with Mary. It works when we fall in love with the source of our own physical life, by falling in love with our breath.
Practicing this loving act every day is the way to achieve “santosha,” “contentment that is not complacent.”