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Maitri musings: santosha (contentment)

  • by Claire Ferry - Feb 18, 2019

The second of the niyamas is santosha, contentment or satisfaction. Together with saucha (cleanliness, purity) these two are the suggested intentions we can have to further our physical and mental wellbeing. The subsequent niyamas the relate to our spiritual wellbeing and search.

Santosha translated as contentment could seem somewhat passive - maybe pretty much content but not truly satisfied, or relaxing in sufficiency but lacking the drive to bother with anything else. We could consider it boring, or complacent.

I think santosha is much more rewarding. It's the ability to centre your attention here in the present, to truly notice what is present, and to be with life as it is right now. Then we are able to find inner contentment and cultivate gratitude in any situation, develop the clarity to see things as they are, and then if necessary to take considered action if there is something we can change..the drive for that (tapas) is the next niyama.

There is contentment and tranquility when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire (BKS Iyengar)

This, like other wisdoms of Patanjali, has been universally understood throughout history and in many different spiritual and knowledge traditions. Socrates said "He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have".

On our mat we can accept the current state of our practice, noticing and being grateful for the fact that we have a body that moves and breathes and is able to practice. We can note that we may have "progressed" from some previous point in the past, or that we may continue to "improve" with further practice, yet the satisfaction comes with what is present now.

This presence, the gift we give ourselves of being here in the moment, opens up time and slows down life. We no longer need to grasp at belongings or desires for the future, or live in the memories of what was, or search for the delights of what might come if...we lose weight/change job/move house...

I don't know exactly what a prayer is./I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down/into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,/how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields (Mary Oliver, A Summer Day)

So now and again, stop and spot what you're doing, take a few mindful breaths, be present. Soften the face into a gentle smile if you can, and if you're experiencing tough emotions in that moment, be with them too.

Further reading if you're interested - I enjoyed this article by Iyengar teacher Eyal Shifroni, and not just for the cat and flower picture!

If you're struggling with difficult emotions and these comments seem blithe or impossible to act on just now, there are therapies out there which can help, including cognitive behavioural therapy and different forms of counselling. Local to Maitri Studio is East Belfast Community Counselling.

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