In yogic philosophy, the word Santosha basically translates as “contentment.”
This isn’t contentment as in, Hey, let’s get stoned and sit on the couch eating donuts and bingeing on Netflix for the next five hours.
It’s not contentment as in Eh, my life is pretty decent as it is, so why bother learning a new language or playing piano or planting a garden or traveling to Greece?
This is contentment, as in looking around at your perfectly-imperfect life, waking up to the little graces, and being ok with it, instead of constantly seeing happiness over there, once you get that body or that car or that job or that partner or that kid.
Buddhist scholar David Loy calls this grass-is-always-greener phenomenon LACK. It’s the ubiquitous, unsettling sense that there’s something intrinsically missing, a perpetual void, always the experience of not enough.
You see this everywhere. Capitalism stokes the fire. Our economy is fueled by the message that YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. That if you just buy this moisturizer or that Tesla or that pair of sneakers, you’ll be lovable, you’ll be popular, you’ll be complete.
We all know that’s not true.
Because as soon as you get the Tesla, you’ll want the newer model. And as soon as you get the McMansion, you’ll want the one with the pool next door. And as soon as you get the trophy wife, there’ll be a younger one with fewer wrinkles and better boobs around the corner.
So we practice cultivating santosha.
And you know what one definition is for enlightenment, right?
That’s right: WAKING UP.
Here are 4 things you can do to find more santosha in your everyday:
1. Sit on a bench with a cup of coffee in your hands.
Plop your tired ass down anywhere: a park bench, your front stoop, a random tree stump. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and feel the sun on your face. Look around at your surroundings, beautiful or ugly, and say to yourself, in spite of anything going down in your life right now (and we know there’s always something going down):
“It is enough.”
It seems so clichéd, I know. But in this culture, practicing enoughness is quite radical. It’s a countercultural move.
In 2002, I left my life in Delaware and moved to Europe. I didn’t have a job or a home or a family. It was just me and a lot of books and benches and train rides and church pews. And in the spite of all the wonders I visited, my main takeaway all these years later is of sitting on a bench in Amsterdam and Berlin and Paris and Madrid with a cup of coffee, closing my eyes, feeling the sun on my face, and saying “It is enough.”
It was simple and poor and quiet and unwashed.
But it was humbly enough.
Traveling solo as a 22-year-old was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Seeing the world beyond your fingertips is doubtlessly life-rocking. And I love, love the work Yoga Trade does to make those kinds of incredible adventures possible now.
But it’s also easy to romanticize life on the road. The truth is, wherever you are, there will be struggles, and there will be joys. The glittering sunsets and the rad globe-trotting folks and the fab food will rock your world. But sometimes, it’s tough. You’re lonely, you’re broke, you’re carrying along an unrequited love or career fears in your racing mind. You’re comparing your poor bohemian nomad’s life with that of your college peers who graduated and bought a house and married someone and got a 401k before age 25.
Your job is to find the middle ground. So you pause and take a moment to look around and say, “It is enough.” Because even if you’re living in a pimped-out van down by the Nile River, there’ll always be aspects of an everyday grind. And it’s up to you to re-brand them.
2. Practice Up Dog, and stay.
I love Urdhva Mukha Svanasana so much lately. Most vinyasa practitioners literally roll right by Up Dog, practicing it what, 20 or 30 times in the course of one vinyasa class, right? We blow through it, not even appreciating it for a breath while we’re on our way to Down Dog.
So the last few months I’ve been purposely, consciously, holding it a solid 5 breaths. And MAN, is it tough! Man, does it feel great! And man, does it feel like a revelation and a relief to flip my toes and head back into Down Dog when it’s over.
This is practicing santosha. This is pausing to notice the things we usually blow right by.
Another easy way to do this is to walk on the different side of the street. You always stroll to the grocery store the same way? Cross the street. It’s a brand-new experience. An alternate universe. Turning off the cruise control.
Read the signs on the shop awnings. Notice the house numbers on the little bungalow down the street. Walk inside that antique shop you usually run right by. You’ll be surprised by how much you usually miss.
3. Before every meal, say three things you’re grateful for.
Even if you’re not into praying, this is a simple way to work in a little santosha. Your three things can be mundane or dramatic, anything from the burrito in front of you to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a sweet, playful way to get to know your dining companions a little better, too.
You can do this on your iPhone, too, using your Notes app. Just jot down thoughts as they come to you. Or you can go old-school and carry a notebook and pen around with you. Sit down and scrawl “In this moment, I am thankful for…” and then just let the pen run wild.
Don’t overlook the power of simple, mundane practices like this.
4. Sprawl out in savasana.
Let your palms fall open and your feet flop. Settle your weight and drop in. For maybe the first time today, notice the miracle of your heart beating in your chest and your lungs breathing, without you having to tell them to do so. Know that you are alive, and you won’t always be.
So, in this very moment, just let your aliveness be enough.
For seven years now, I’ve offered the same blessing at the end of each yoga class. It goes like this, palms in prayer:
“Inhaling, we lift our hearts, and
Exhaling, we bow forward,
In very simple gratitude:
For this body, this breath, this moment, this life,
For, as the yoga reminds us: each of these will pass.
That we might never take any of those breaths, or any of those moments — even, and especially, the most challenging ones — for granted.”
Isn’t it hard? I mean, damn. Don’t we just want to get past those difficult moments as quickly as possible?
Not really. The alternative, of course, is that we’re dead.
If you’ve ever had a broken limb before, you get this. The revelation and immense gratitude you feel after getting your cast off, or throwing out the crutches and walking down the stairs again by yourself. A decade ago, living in San Francisco, I sprained my ankle. I tromped around miserably in a walking cast for several weeks, bartended in that beer-covered walking cast, and sat in the back row of a yoga class and faked my way through the whole thing on the floor. I felt so deeply grateful the first time I got my boot off. I promised myself I’d never again take for granted the ability to carry my groceries up the street or climb the stairs or go to work.
(Of course, now, I do.)
Last month, we ended up at the ER with my 2-year-old son. For over a week, he’d had a mysterious swelling of both eyelids that made it look like he’d just walked out of Fight Club, or an Olympic boxing match. We saw five different medical professionals over the course of a week, and they all offered different potential diagnoses, but no one was able to cure it, even after meds, shots, and time.
The dreaded parental rite of passage of your first trip to the ER is pretty, well, awful.
Being there was such a reminder of impermanence and the fragility of these aging bodies. You walk through the doors under that big red EMERGENCY ROOM sign and know you’re gonna see sorrow.
But being there with your KID takes it to a whole new level. My mind kept slipping toward anxiety, running off to heartbreaking imagined futures. It was a constant practice of having to corral it again and again, bring it back to this moment.
After several hours and a battery of tests that revealed everything was going to be ok, and it was just a simple blocked oil gland in his eyelid, I’ve never felt more awake to the fundamental blessings of my life. Like being able to make eye contact with my son. Like being able to cut that ER bracelet off his leg. Like knowing he’d be able to see and walk and kick a ball and play an instrument and read books.
Santosha. Waking up.
Stay woke. This life is short.
Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, Tricycle, The Huffington Post, Yoga International, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com