Where do we root our contentment?

Have you ever experienced that you study something and believe you ‘have it’ just to discover that you actually don’t have a clue? That just happened to me last week.

I have been reflection about a few things since the beginning of the lockdown, and as usual, I have been sharing them with my yoga teacher, Prasad. I feel so fortunate to have a teacher that challenges my mind! I often feel that no matter which philosophy you choose to follow, the path of spirituality is like a game. There are levels. Not levels of achievement, but levels of understanding. Not so long ago, I wrote a text about the concepts of raga (attachment) and dvesha (aversion), and I think I have also written about santosha (contentment) before.

Last week, I was thinking about my life situation during the lockdown, and I wrote some lines to my teacher sharing my thoughts feeling that I was ‘content’ with the situation. He encouraged me to observe what I wrote and the thinking behind it, and I discovered that my mind is constantly swinging between attachment and aversion. “I like this, I dislike that, I fear this, I regret that, I want this, I wish that, I don’t wish this, I hope that will go away… ” All the time! There is nothing wrong about that but what a way of wasting mental energy! It took me some days to understand what he meant but suddenly, just like that, it hit me! The more I keep labelling what is around me, even if I believe I am being flexible and adapting, the more I am keeping my mind busy with the external world instead of giving myself the chance to slow down, be quiet and listen to what my inner self has to say. As my teacher pointed out, I will never find contentment in any situation, I have to find the contentment inside me.

So where does the “game” comparison come in here? Well, if you study yoga, you might have come across the concept of santosha. I remember in the beginning of my studies, one of my peers recommended to start by being thankful. There is a little routine one can establish by every day making a list of things we are thankful for. Every day, no matter how challenging it might be, has some elements we can be thankful for. This way, we train the mind to focus on the positive instead of the negative. When we give the mind a rest from the negative, we are able to take a step back from it, be less emotional about it and deal with it in a more skilful and less energy-consuming way. We could then say, this is step one in the process.

Then, comes another aspect of contentment that I have been exploring lately, which is the idea of being okay with anything that happens around me. This is connected to the idea of non-attachment. If I let go of my expectations of how a situation should or shouldn’t be, I will then discover that I can be at peace with what is, and try to work with it. I can then learn a lesson, play my part, or let go and walk away.

The latest aspect I learned this week is the fact that nothing in the outer world will ever bring contentment. Why? Because 1) Everything is constantly changing and I am aware of it. So, consciously or unconsciously I will enjoy it but have some sort of attachment to it “Oh, I wish it will never end!”. Or even be anxious about it ending. 2) My mind is used to think consciously or unconsciously that the grass might be greener on the other side. We are constantly making choices, and we choose according to the information we have at any given time, but, there is always this slight element of doubt. “Did I choose correctly? What would have happen if I had chosen differently? Would I be even more content?”

This last aspect is an invitation to really start digging deeper. Yes, Yoga is a lot about the attitude with which we live our lives, and none of the described understandings of contentment is wrong, but if I want to go deeper, I’d better start believing that real lasting contentment is something that I will only find inside, and for this, I need to continue practicing my sadhana and detach from my limiting ideas whether I perceive them as good or as bad. They are only ideas.

I remember reading this somewhere, we often believe that we achieve some sort of wisdom, just to find out the next minute that we were only at the top of the iceberg…

Raga/Dvesha

As a student of Yoga, I read, I reflect and I apply what I study to my life. This means that what I retain from my studies is influenced by what is occupying my mind at each moment. My understanding of some of the concepts is influenced by my experiences and observations so most probably, what I think today might change tomorrow because of further studies, new experiences and hopefully deeper understanding.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about the concepts of raga and dvesha. They are both mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, and I recently found out that they are two of the three poisons described in Buddhism as well.

Raga is attachment and Dvesha is aversion in Sanskrit. Two faces of the same coin. If you observe your reactions towards everything that happens around you, you either approve (like it), or disapprove of it (dislike it) this leading to you either wanting more or wanting to run away in the oposite direction. Sometimes, we also are indifferent.

This way of ranging things as either good (pleasant) and bad (unpleasant) is most probably part of our survival instinct, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. However, in the Yoga tradition, we are encouraged to move away from these two ‘troubles of the mind’ because they distort our perception and distract or even distress our mind. When we refrain from attaching to what we like or rejecting what we don’t like, our mind is calmer and we might be able to deal with every situation in a more skilful way. You enjoy what is pleasant being able to let go of it when the time comes, and you can deal with what is unpleasant in a way that doesn’t add more distress to the situation. You might also sometimes discover that what you label as bad, is just your own personal perception that doesn’t benefit you and those around you.

I’ve been thinking about it this week because I observe how in the society we live, we are too used to choose what we think is suitable for ourselves, what we like, what we want, what we think is normal, what we think is good, and many of us struggle to come out of our comfort zone even if this would benefit someone else.

Are we becoming a hedonist society? Are we raising up our children to become attached to their comfort zone, to what they like and justify them when they despise what they perceive as unpleasant? If our kids get bored, what do we do? Are we overdoing it in our efforts to give them a good life? What is a good life? A life devoid of pain?

I sometimes wonder if not by being so obsessed with doing, getting and keeping what we like and rejecting so strongly what we dislike we are creating more pain than gain. What we perceive as unpleasant is often what brings us up and forward spiritually because we learn something new about ourselves. If only, that we are resilient.

Sometimes, reaching out towards others who need it demand from us to get out of our comfort zone. It demands that we do things that we maybe don’t feel like doing. I am not sure I am right, but I keep thinking about one of my daughters. She is born with a syndrome that affects among other things her social skills. As she is growing older, she is struggling more and more to be accepted by her classmates. I know she can be challenging because she can have a quite rigid mindset, but she is also a lovely kid with many assets. She has many interests any girl her age has. I am afraid that the adults around her are justifying her isolation with the fact that she is ‘different’ and that her classmates are young and shouldn’t be ‘affected’ by her sometimes challenging behaviour. Shouldn’t we be encouraging already from young age inclusion? What do we do with all the people that do not meet our definition of ‘normal’? Can’t we give them a chance too? They need more guidance, they need to learn how to socialise, and they might not learn all the necessary skills, but they certainly have the same right to be part of society as anyone else. Can we teach kids to be kind, to sometimes even include just to make someone feel good even if this means that they ‘loose’ some time of ‘freedom’ once in a while? Do we always have to accommodate for kids to do what they like and sweep away from their path what they don’t like? What do we teach them then?

I read today that one of the secrets to prosperity is generosity. When we give, we become richer, not because of some miraculous multiplication of what we give but because we discover how much we can give without really loosing anything…but now I am moving towards another topic, the topic of asteya. This can be for another time.