Exploring Santosha

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Watching for Boredom Within Contentment

Humans have a love affair with drama. The action, suspense, fall from grace, and the phoenix rising again from the ashes. Even in the surprisingly few times life is not delivering us the drama of one fire to tend and another to put out, we go looking for a spark. And then we blow. Why? Because the adrenaline fire of drama is exciting and oh so familiar. No fire feels boring, so the subconscious returns to what is known, even if it is agonizing, in order to feel alive.

The Yoga Sutras encourage the practice of santosha or ‘contentment with oneself and others.’ Far from boring, this practice requires a totally different kind of engagement with the unfolding drama of life than our typical role as flame fanner or fire extinguisher. Maybe those yogis knew how can we feel challenged and alive without burning down the house. Maybe can we cultivate a state of equanimity without it feeling boring.

Webster’s dictionary defines boredom as “the state of being weary and restless from a lack of interest.” Just try to practice santosha or contentment with a lack of interest! Notice first the impulse to ‘do’ but resist the urge to move into dramatic action. Next, observe the tendency to ‘analyze’ but surrender what has been as a good rehearsal. Finally, attempt to be completely absorbed in the action of the fire in front of you – its variety, intensity, and vibrancy – without reaching into the flame.

A different kind of internal spark alights when we practice contentment. Whereas boredom is passive, santosha is unequivocally active. Patanjali’s injunction to be content with oneself and others begins to loosen our overbearing direction of life’s drama. Rather than follow the compulsion to act at every turn – fixing, helping, analyzing, changing, improving, eliminating – we can watch until these urges subside.

Of course we must guard the danger of a swinging pendulum, from one extreme to the other, being neither frenetic fire dancer nor comatose marshmallow roaster. The still point in the middle is where we balance sensory desires and distractions with attentiveness and nonattachment . The lifetime quest of the true Yogi is the effortless embracing of equanimity and receptivity to the Divine moving into manifestation in ever-new form.

Liberation comes when we ‘no longer feel the need to act’ according to Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of Sutra 11.27 in The Secret Power of Yoga. Then, she writes, our constant companions are joy, faith, and clarity. A truly exciting and creative project usually requires that we embrace an uncertain ending. If we refuse to blow on the spark of drama, no matter how familiar the fire feels, we allow santosha to show us the way to peace. In this way we befriend the unknown and watch the magic of our story unfold.

This article is part of an ongoing series on the yamas and niyamas. For the full 10-part series click on each link below:



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What is the Meaning of Om?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It is a particularly human trait to be curious about our origins, and the origins of our universe. How could so much – the diversity of our planet, the vastness of our solar system, the unknown reaches of space – come from nothing? Spiritual traditions from all over the world have grappled with this question, and have recognized the profound role of the Divine Word as the origins, the beginning, of the universe. If at first there was nothing, the very first thing was a sound vibration, and from there, everything sprang into existence, and the material world was born. And Western science is now coming on board as well: quantum physicists have been studying the role of vibration at the root of matter itself.

Nikola Tesla said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” The very foundations of our Universe, of matter and thought, appear to lie in sound vibration.

And from a yogic perspective, there is a profound connection between speech (the expression of our thoughts) and prana (the life energy carried on the breath). When we speak, we are naming our reality while using the power of the breath to form and express our words. Speech is prana in action. Prana naturally creates sound.

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