dalai lama

joy *and* sorrow: santosha

“We try so hard to separate joy and sorrow into their own boxes,
but the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama tell us that they are inevitably fastened together. Neither advocate the kind of fleeting happiness, often called hedonic happiness, that requires only positive states and banishes feelings like sadness to emotional exile. 
The kind of happiness that they describe is often called eudemonic happiness
and is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance,
including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief.”

This is a quote from The Book of Joy. In Yoga philosophy, we might talk about the qualities described here as Aparigraha (non-grasping or letting go), Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender), and Santosha (contentment), which I’d like to highlight today.

All of these concepts are layered like sedimentary rock, and to say that Santosha means passively accepting whatever happens in your life is overly simplistic.

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Let’s take the example above from The Book of Joy. Every life will have moments of loss, disappointment and grief. Does that mean we should just be “fine” with it? Not exactly.

While the translation of Santosha is usually contentment, acceptance, satisfaction, ease or harmony, the deeper layers reveal a quality of openness that acknowledges oneself and one’s environment as it is.

Rather than being at war with reality, Santosha invites us to stop relentlessly chasing the next thing — more more more — and instead, rest into ourselves as we are. That place of willingness and honesty is the only place from which true change can occur.

It could also be described as the lack of trsna, or craving. This speaks to the common definition of suffering as “wishing things other than they actually are,” which is the opposite of Santosha.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. Which is why we need support, reminders, and a healthy dose of discipline to keep practicing (because like strengthening a muscle, we can get better at it).

Arguably, the practice of Yoga could be described as the process of self-reliance, self-examination and self-development.

For me personally, this is the heart of practice and teaching — to become aware of myself more honestly, to see what I would otherwise try to camouflage, and ultimately to develop the aspects of myself that do not serve me or the world.

Consider what your intention is in practice:
How does the way you approach practice create its outcome? 

 

get uncomfortable

The Discomfort Zone… 

It’s not a place we talk about often. Certainly not a place we strive to be.

But it is a very important place.

It’s possible that our extreme desire for comfort keeps us a little too protected. We successfully avoid situations where we are forced to grow, where there is uncertainty, where we don’t already feel adept and safe. This can make us reactive, entitled and a little lazy.

Not to mention what our desire for comfort — and convenience — has done to the planet…but that’s a topic for another time.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama offer his sage wisdom on building resilience against mental/emotional suffering. He says:

     “Like physical illness, preventative measures are the best way. Yes, if some disease has already developed, then there’s no other choice but to take medicine. So similarly, once a person develops a strong negative emotion, like anger or jealousy, it is very difficult to counter it at that moment. So the best thing is to cultivate your mind through practice so that you can learn to prevent it from arising in the first place.” 

By getting into our Discomfort Zone, we can practice non-reactivity, observe how a feeling or sensation changes and meet the moment in reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.

You might be familiar with these qualities in your yoga practice, certainly in your meditation and asana practices.

This is one of the skills Yoga helps to develop — being with what is, as it is, without immediately discharging it, trying to fix or distract from it. 

Here are a few ways to strengthen this skill, like a muscle, on your mat:

  • Practice meditation — anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes — in complete stillness. Sit with the itch, the wanting to fidget, and watch the feeling or sensation change, maybe even disappear.

  • When in a yoga pose, stay even when it becomes (safely) intense. Warmth and tingling in the thighs in Warrior II? Awkward and humbling in the arm balance? Again, stay with it and watch the sensations change and move.

  • In Savasana, resist the impulse to move immediately at the “end” of the time. Notice that some of your urges are habitual rather than conscious choice.

  • How does aversion to discomfort show up in the rest of your life? Especially considering the attitudes and actions surfacing in our country right now, it's crucial for us to stretch out the comfort of complacency. What's one thing you could do -- make a phone call? Write a letter? Volunteer? Organize a group?

Why does any of this matter? What good does it do to go into a discomfort zone? Isn’t that opposite of what Yoga is for?

As my teacher Mary often says, Yoga is not a practice to make us feel better, it is an opportunity to feel.

Additionally, Yoga is a practice of Action, not just witnessing.

This is a whole-life path. It builds mental, emotional AND physical strength and flexibility.

And goodness knows we need it.