Challenge Day 3- Yoga Is Santosha, Acceptance and Contentment
We live in a mindset of accumulation. The idea that more is better in any circumstance fuels the endless cycles of consumerism that drive GDP. Sociologists have called this the culture of more. More clothes. More money. More stocks. More information. More photos. Bigger. Faster. Better.
The culture of more is built on the premise of scarcity. While paradoxically generating more of everything, the actual result is less happiness, security, and peace. Contained within the subtext of the shiny advertising messages that sell you onward and upward along the line of infinite upgrades is the dirty little secret that you are never enough as you are and that you never have enough, no matter how much you have. All this “more” is sold as a filler to stuff inside an inner void. The problem is that no amount of external stuff can ever replace a sense of true wholeness. Nothing, not even other people, can actually be a substitute for the realization that you are enough exactly as you are.
Yoga offers an alternative paradigm. Instead of accumulating more, yoga asks you to accept who you are, where you are and what you have or don’t have. This attitude of contentment is called Santosha. Derived from two Sanskrit words, “Sam” which means complete, altogether, entirely and “Tosha” which means content, satisfaction, acceptance, being comfortable. As such, Santosha means completely content with, satisfied with, accepting and comfortable with. Included in the Yoga Sutras, under the list of Niyamas, the concept of Santosha is a foundational principle of the yogi life. Yoga practitioners are not expected to arrive to the practice in a state of Santosha. Instead, it is the practice itself that cultivates the attitude of contentment with all the varied circumstances in life.
Some people come to yoga and import the culture of more to their yoga practice. This unfortunately leads well-intended students to fall for the common trope that associates more poses, deeper stretches, and higher lift-ups with advanced yoga practice. When the goal of yoga is rooted in an accumulation of physical forms, you run the risk of quite literally making an ass-ana out of yourself. If the goal of yoga is just to go deeper, do more, collect more poses, then the culture of more has infiltrated the yoga practice. Students who make the false equivalence of poses with depth often end up sacrificing the health of their bodies to achieve certain poses. But, the reality of the physical body is that no matter how much you try and control it, the body changes. You may do a pose one day, but not the next. You may do a pose for a decade and then it slips away. Even worse, some students can naturally do a pose while you may practice for many years and never attain it. All this pose-oriented focus is meant to be a laboratory for life experience. Life, like yoga, is constantly changing.
Some people toil and work their whole lives for very little success. Others seems to fall easily into lucky streaks. Some people are born with great privilege and squander it. Others are born with no advantages and seem to rise far beyond their potential. Some people have all the money in the world and are still miserable. Others have next to nothing material and yet seem so happy. Some days are sunny. Some days are rainy. Sometimes your car breaks down. Sometimes airplanes are delayed. Life never goes according to plan, well, at least not your plan. If you think happiness in life only comes from a steady linear progression towards the goal of accumulation, then the unfortunate truth of change will hit you one day. No matter how much you try and control life, life is uncontrollable. The spiritual path of yoga challenges the culture of more with a culture of Santosha.
Learn to be at peace with where you are. Learn to accept what is, rather than trying to force what isn’t into being. Practice an attitude of complete and total acceptance. For people who are indoctrinated in the culture of more, this feels scary, like quitting. You may think that nothing will ever happen if you live in a bubble of contentment. But, the opposite is usually true. No material circumstance will ever make you happy. You either learn how to be happy right now, as you are, or, even if you succeed at accomplishing all you set your sights on, you’ll find that you’re no happier. You will be the same person, just with a bunch of stuff, or a series of checks off of your to-do list. Yoga says that happiness begins right here, right now, by radically accepting what is.
Start with yourself. If your hips are tight, observe that your hips are tight. Don’t try and change them. Just be with them as they are. If your back is stiff, observe that your back is still. Don’t try and change your spine. Just be with your body as it is. Trust that simply by showing up on the mat, the body will open and release according to its own time. Then, try with your life. Instead of fighting for more, stop and look around. Observe what is in your life today. Actively practice being content with what is.
We so often think we need to launch an attack to elicit change in the world. Unfortunately, this paradigm often generates only more division and polarization. Approaching difficult circumstances with an attitude of Santosha doesn’t mean that you will never work for positive social change. Instead, it means that you will enter every situation with a willing, peaceful heart. It is often said that people wait to understand a person before they can love them. But, it is actually love that comes first and opens the door to understanding. Santosha is a way to express unconditional love, both in your relationship with yourself, and in your relationship with the world.
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