The meaning of “santosha”, to me

Quite simply, santosha is the Sanskrit term for “contentment” – one of the niyamas from the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga. It is the peace that is already inside, independent from external sources. So to “chase santosha” is actually impossible and almost farcical, like the ocean reaching out to the rain for wetness. I found a lovely description of santosha on the web, from yogachicago.com:

“Contentment is serenity, but not complacency. It is comfort, but not submission; reconciliation, not apathy; acknowledgment, not aloofness. Contentment is a mental decision, a moral choice, a practiced observance, a step into the reality of the cosmos. Contentment/santosha is the natural state of our humanness and our divinity and allows for our creativity and love to emerge. It is knowing our place in the universe at every moment. It is unity with the largest, most abiding, reality.”

It’s difficult in the modern era to consistently be in a state of santosha when we are bombarded by media images telling us we are lacking in one way or another in order to sell us products and services to fix our shortcomings. We attach to people and things to secure our happiness, but when these things inevitably pass out of our lives we feel loss and sadness. So what does it mean to really be content?

Sometimes, clarity about this matter comes to me in waves.

It feels like jumping on a trampoline – I sail towards the heavens against the will of gravity and hover in space – weightless, breathless; my hair floats and my body seems to dissolve into the humid summer air like smoke. For a moment it seems there is only sky, endless blue punctuated by cheerful cumulous clouds, like poetry scrawled elegantly across the horizon. I can peek over the fence into the neighbor’s yard where there are hot dogs grilling tantalizingly on the barbeque and a dog sleeping happily in the luscious green grass. Time stands still and I am both completely alone and wholly connected. I feel like everything makes sense, everything is in harmony, and my existence is perfect in all its fleeting, tumultuous glory. I get to revel in all of all this – for only a rapturous moment – until gravity pulls me back to reality. Then, bounce! I hit the rubber surface and my sock feet remind me that there are limitations. This is my yard, with the dried up, yellow patches in the grass and peeling paint on the side of the house. I will not taste those hot dogs. My hair slaps my back like a whip as I come down and again I feel heavy, chained down, inadequate. I cannot fly. Yet the harder I fall and the greater force with which I push back, I soar higher. And then I fall harder. And soar higher. And so forth. Each time collecting a little more clarity, a little more wisdom, a little more perspective. And I get to hover in that perfect moment of stillness, of presence, a little longer. I begin to fear my decent a little less. And I come to realize: I don’t even like hot dogs.

And that’s what I’ve realized about happiness. It’s not about catapulting ourselves over the neighbor’s fence to where the grass is greener, into the spaces we wish to take up, into the life we think we should have. It’s about finding peace in those moments of clarity when we are weightless, fearless, and desiring of nothing. The trick is then to hold onto that, learning how to create in ourselves the ecstasy of peace and love through practice and perseverance. Even when we can’t see the sky, even when we feel like gravity has us hopelessly in its clutches. It’s about abolishing needless, self-imposed expectations and limitations. We are conscious beings who have the luxurious capability of realizing our innate divinity, but with the unfortunate universal tendency to find fault in our situations and ourselves that keeps us stuck to the ground. Thus, it’s not about chasing santosha, but rather embodying it, and finding gratitude in the pure fact that we get to be. And in a state of being, santosha appears before us – once we open our eyes.

So it is my work, my practice, to relinquish the comforting yet frustrating feelings of mediocrity and find peace. To accept the ups and downs knowing that nothing is permanent.  And begin to listen to the deafening, unavoidable truth that I want more. I am more. I’m prepared to be a channel for whatever message the universe needs to manifest through me. And in this, I am content.

 

 

 

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You can’t travel anywhere if you don’t buy a ticket.

Lately I have been feeling the most intense urge to travel.

I always saw myself as the girl who doesn’t do much adventuring, one who stays home and toils away at her work, selflessly giving of her energy and never taking anything for her self. Maybe it’s because my family never traveled; the most extravagant trip we ever went on was to Victoria when my dad had to go there for work and we somehow were able to manipulate it into a family vacation. Then I went to Europe in high school on a trip organized by my French teacher, a ten-day extravaganza that my teenage mind saw as an opportunity to buy tacky, overpriced tee shirts at tourist-trap markets with slogans on them that were funny because they didn’t quite make sense in English. I hadn’t learned enough about the history of Versailles or studied in-depth the works of Jacques Louis David until I was studying fine art in university. I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge to appreciate the layers of blood and passion that were swirling about Europe at the time, the rumbles of revolution that started with the pounding of uproarious peasants’ feet that shook the cobblestone streets and vibrated through the paintbrush of masters like Goya. These artists were able to distill the atmosphere of a nation into colours and lines and splash it on canvas. I wonder now if they are turning in their grave as thousands of tourists flock to snap up their masterpieces in canon point-and-shoot lenses some hundreds of years later and blissfully ignorant teenagers like I was who are more concerned with the promise of “real” gelato after we complete our tour of the art galleries gaze numbly at the walls. If I could go back – when I go back – I will feast on these works and save the gelato for another day.

I guess my biggest roadblock to traveling is financial. I went to art school and after switching programs a couple times, ended up on the university finish line (a 5-year long race for me) with a major in film production. Then I got my heart (and my video camera) broken by a dark, handsome and angry curly-haired director type with horn-rimmed glasses and since then have hung my filmmaker’s hat in a deep corner of my closet. I left the big city with my tail between my legs and have been nesting in Kelowna ever since, somewhere close enough to my hometown of Penticton but far enough to still feel like I’ve staked out my independence, and have built quite a network of friends in the yoga community and beyond. I’ve worked several different jobs that have paid the bills but left my creative bank dry. And I’m by no means thriving – a lot of my energy is swallowed up in transferring funds from one credit card to the other and asking for extensions on interest relief periods for my grandiose student debt (film school is NOT cheap!) So I feel like I’m stuck on a treadmill, not motivated or confident enough to find work in the film industry, which is virtually impossible to find even if I WAS motivated, seeing as the lackluster economy isn’t exactly chomping at the bit to relinquish funds into the arts, yet bored and frustrated enough to want more. But more what? I struggle to pinpoint where to steer my life like trying to utter a word that dances on the tip of my tongue or remembering a dream upon wakening. Sometimes it flashes at me like lighting just long enough to marvel at it for a moment, and then I am hurled once again into the dark. More what? More…what?

“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

~from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I had an experience in an intro to psychology class once where something in the lesson was unclear, and I could hear murmuring throughout the giant room full of over 150 students that proved I wasn’t the only one wondering. But shy little first-year me was too timid to raise a hand. Then someone called out from across the room the same question that was rattling about in my head. “Good question,” the prof congratulated. I felt a collective sigh of relief sweep through the crowd of fold-down chairs at the clarification that followed. “That could have been me that brought it up,” I thought, “but someone else did. If I wasn’t here it wouldn’t have made any difference.” And since then I have perceived the world as a tiny microcosm of that moment: if I don’t do a painting about heartbreak, someone else will. If I don’t teach a killer yoga class, someone else will. If I don’t get to be happy, someone else will. My existence is really rather meaningless.

But what if that guy that called out had thought the same thing?

I realize that I have been living a life of self-imposed limitations. I’ve condemned myself to a life of lack – a lack of money, lack of confidence, lack of worthiness. I have been thinking lately: what if I only had 6 months left to live? Would I waste my time working a job I don’t love, letting time drain away, shyly avoiding my responsibility to use the talents I’ve so graciously been given? Would I want to fade away without seeing the world, or even my own country? Maybe it’s my turn to be the guy that calls out. The one that has the confidence that she has something to say that needs to be heard. How sobering to suddenly realize that I am in possession of not only the map, but also the key, the sword, and the magic wand I need to create my life! I can make things happen if I desire them enough. I have to trust my intuition and believe in my irreplaceable gifts.

“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.”

~from “To Althea, from Prison” by Richard Lovelace

So, who wants to travel the world?

Taking the plunge

“There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s pulling me out of the dark.” ~Adele

So, I’ve decided to start blogging.

The idea of starting a blog was always interesting to me. As if by writing these public journals by packaging our thoughts and feelings into little bundles of paragraphs, symbols on a screen, and then sending them out like dandelion seeds to be snagged by the sticky netting of the world wide web we are somehow making a difference. We are able to express something magical, something that cannot go unsaid. Lately I’ve been experiencing so many amazing people, situations, and points of growth that I feel the need to share them. Is it egotistical? Perhaps, but I once read somewhere “never doubt that which you are compelled to offer” (I’m quite sure it was off someone’s blog!) So here I am. Sharing my slice of the human experience. What I feel compelled to offer is the ups and downs of my path as a yoga instructor and never-ending student. Sharing the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and the magnificent lights in others that I’ve seen blinking shyly from behind well-kept walls like fireflies fluttering between reeds in the darkest of night. And the journey from my own shadows into the light that I have been feeling more and more of a responsibility to let shine.

“We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~Marianne Williamson

I plan to include what I am working on in my classes and my own practice (which are oftentimes intertwined), music that inspires me, artwork, quotes, poems, photos, cartoons, jokes, random encounters with strangers, whatever it is that ignites that spark, that recognition of the abundant light that we are all privy to. Do you ever feel like you’re only using about 1/10 000 of your capacity as a human being? I do! We’ve been given this incredible gift to experience life and energy as a thinking being, and we spend so much of it worried about what others think, or married to our issues, or dulled to the point of inefficiency by our past wounds and the ensuing baggage they create. Then there are these “aha!” moments, these slivers of clarity, when I realize that there is nothing left to do but be happy! In fact, we should be overjoyed at every breath we have the pleasure of experiencing! This is infinity! There is only the Now, and we have the power to choose our thoughts and our reality in any given moment. It’s difficult, but yoga has given me the tools and the awareness to begin to do so. Thus I am prepared to be candid, honest, vulnerable, dedicated. Is this a blog about me? Yes. But since we are all connected in this wild ride around the sun and act as such effective mirrors for each other, I hope that sharing my ups and downs can perhaps help illuminate other souls who happen to stumble across my little pebble on the side of the information super highway. I’m going to really enjoy this. I hope you do too.

Namaste,

~C