How often we can take the sun for granted and just move through the day. How often we can get lost in our to-dos and forget to watch the awe of the sunrise or sunset. How often we can feel trapped in our longing or desires and be led astray from what is right in front of us. These pulls and tugs are many: yearning for a bigger yard, craving another coffee, wanting those red shoes, wishing for more money to feed the hungry children, disappointed that your child/partner/sibling didn’t do what they said, and so on, hoping for change that is out of your control. All this longing and desiring outside of ourselves may be happening amidst the truth of the moment as it unfolds around you: the moon rising, a stranger offering you a smile, the call of the robin, the touch of a toddler, the sensation of breath. Our desires pull us further away from the truth and beauty of presence and recognition of what we actually have in this moment that is of value.
Tara Brach shares that the word desire stems from the latin word “Desiderare,” which translates to “away from the star.” She states: “Desire is intrinsic to our aliveness, yet when we have unmet needs, it can possess us. We become stuck in the grip of wanting or addictions.” She refers to these cravings as hungry ghosts, in search of something that is outside of ourselves. She goes on to reflect that the satisfaction of desire comes when we can sit in presence, the moment, and embrace what is happening here and now, when we remember that we are. Contentment and happiness are not found outside of us, in experiences yet to be had, dreams yet to be filled, but available right here, in the moment, being with what is and accepting all that we are. Remember the light of our own spirit, the light of the star. Remember that we are the stars; the stars are us, feeling into the way in which our senses are receiving.
A similar reflection of finding contentment with what is and freeing ourselves from perpetual suffering is outlined within Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Listed as one of the Niyamas (niyamas can be described as personal discipline or evolution to seek harmony in oneself) is the call to be at peace with oneself and others, be content, accepting, and in the moment with all circumstances and experiences; santosha. Chapter II, v. 42 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reveals: Samtosad Anuttamah Sukhalabhah (Contentment cultivates unsurpassed joy and happiness).
Santosha is a Sanskrit word that can be divided into two parts to better understand its meaning: sam, meaning completely or entirely, and tosha, meaning acceptance, satisfaction, and contentment. Santosha can be described as a state of mind essential for optimal well-being and ease in mind, body, and heart. When we are discontent, our thoughts can lead us toward envy, bottomless desires, resentment, and jealousy. When we are content, we can cultivate a strong sense of self, knowing and trusting we are enough, feeling grateful and authentically happy, living in “unsurpassed joy and happiness.”
So, how do we live with and in contentment? We remember. Remember again and again that contentment can not be found outside of us, but lives within us. This could be in the form of a deep breath, allowing the inspiration to bring you back into knowing and trusting that there is enough right here, right now, in you. Taking a conscious pause amidst your scheduled day to just be, allowing yourself to feel what is already in you. Another way to lean into our own contentment is to strengthen the muscles of our mind to wire toward gratitude.
“Gratitude teaches you to find more positivity than negativity in the world you perceive.
Your brain is actually wired to remember one positive memory for every five negative memories. At one point it was necessary for survival, but we are not figuring our way through the woods anymore. And since your body’s operating system basically works the exact same as it did thousands of years ago, it will keep remembering the negative experiences as a way to survive unless you hack that system and change it. Gratitude is a simple hack to rewire your brain to navigate in the positive direction. It works with a simple neurological concept, “what fires together, wires together.” What that means is the neuroplasticity of your brain changes based on the neurons that fire during an experience. If you’re always getting angry every time someone cuts you off while driving then your brain will wire to do that every time, whether you’re aware of it or not. However, you can change it. Gratitude is one way to shift the neural pathways and perceive a more positive life.”
– Mitchel Bleier, from Gratitude Journal
Welcoming gratitude as part of a daily practice is one way to embrace santosha and rewire your brain to see the gifts in your life that are in you and around you.
Experiment for yourself and take note of any shifts you might feel, in heart, in presence, in connection. Here are some prompts to help you welcome in a daily practice on gratitude:
At the start of your day:
- Today, I am grateful for ____ because ____.
- Today, when I forgot to notice ________ , I will _______ to help me remember.
At the end of your day:
- What interaction from the day fills me with compassion when I think about it? Why?
- What sensory stimulation filled me with gratitude? Perhaps the taste of something delicious, the feeling of a warm breeze against my arm or the smell of a spring blossom. Why?
- When was I most content today? Why?
Share your gratitude reflections with others. If you are living in relation to others, involve them in the conversation and notice how collectively you may all start to orient differently to each other and each moment.
Remember we are never away from the star, we are the star.
To the radiant and luminous light in each and everyone of you, Namaste.