In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Santosha (संतोष) is second of the five Niyamas (self-discipline’s or observances). It refers to a sense of acceptance of how things are. Like these two simple words, it points to a space of contentment.
You can also call this ‘home’. It’s our natural habitat.
So why does it feel like a challenge much of the time to land back here?
Any given day, an incredible amount of information is thrown at us. It is difficult to take this all on board; our bodies and brains are simply not evolved to deal with so much stimulus at once.
We can easily slide into a fear-based mode of processing the world. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and FOF (Fear of Failure) are just two examples - once things become acronymised you know it’s a ‘thing’!
Acting from a place of fear leads to feelings of instability, increased anxiety, and increased pressure to fit into some preemptive shape. Your cells know. Your muscles tense, your organs react through hyper-activity. It leads to a spiral of stress.
Stress, in all its manifestations of bodily symptoms and mind-numbness, is almost becoming the normative state in our stimulus-saturated culture.
This is certainly not home, and cannot not be the way we continue to live! So how can our choices support a connection to this more centred, easeful place?
Buddhist teacher Arjahn Cha tells the a story that vividly demonstrates the impact of our choices.
As a teacher and his students take a walk on the mountain, he points at a large boulder, and asks: ‘Do you believe this boulder is heavy?’
There are nods and replies of ‘Yes’ all round. Arjahn Cha looks at the boulder and answers, matter-of-factly: ‘Not if you don’t pick it up.’
And so it is with our own choices.
You can choose to respond, rather than react. The first is action from within, the latter is re-action upon habit, or the less conscious guidance of a noisy world of ‘should’s.
Give yourself space to pause.
Take the time to ask: ‘Do I need to pick this up? Will this strengthen me along my path, or add burden to my journey?’
Centre into the vastness that resides below the flurry of waves and thought. It is here that you can, over time, recognise that FOMO and FOF are ghosts that haunt the anxious mind.
This is what yoga is about : the ability to ease into sthira and sukha, steadiness and ease, regardless of our internal or external circumstances.
Underneath the waves lies the truth: you are already enough. This very moment, if you truly wish to centre into it, is enough. And in this enough-ness, there is centre. Ease. Santosha.
Coming home is an active, imperfect, yet rewarding practice. Let's keep practicing.