“Being contented brings the greatest of joys”
Yoga Sutra II.42, translation by Kofi Busia
The second of the five nimayas (self-disciplines), santosa is most commonly translated as “contentment.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to be content is “to limit (oneself) in requirements, desires, or actions.” TKV Desikachar further defines santosa as “to accept what happens.”
Most of the time, for most of us, our heads are racing with activity – feeling that we are hungry, or the room is too cold, thinking of some new product or experience that we would like to have… In each of these examples, our desires draw our thoughts away from the many resources that we already have. We feel that if certain conditions were met, then we could be content. The practice of santosa is a method to ease our attatchment to these constant inner voices of desire and disquiet and to cultivate an inner source of comfort and appreciation.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to study art and meditation in the Italian countryside a few times. I remember one warm summer when I was so glad to be back in Italy. It was very hot and very humid, so we were all stuck to our plastic chairs. As we began our meditation, we could hear all the sounds of the farm around us: the tractors out rumbling in the fields, the occasional car tooting its horn, farm hands shouting across the road to one another. These are far from the idyllic sounds of burbling streams or chirping birds, and yet somehow, these sounds were beautiful. They seemed to float peacefully in the hot air around me, without causing me distraction or making me fussy. Sometimes, when I am getting irritated by sounds, heat, cold, or other sensations around me, I remember that these sensations are just as romantic and peaceful or as jarring and disruptive as I choose to make them. To me this story demonstrates that ultimately, contentment and peace of mind exist quite independently of the situations around us. Santosa reminds us of this message: we can generate our own contentment, rather than waiting for someone else or some thing else to make us content. That easy and embracing state of mind is always present inside of us, waiting to be remembered and drawn out.
The practice of santosa is the practice of being aware and content and resourceful with the moment we are currently facing. Rather than dwelling in distraction, we aim to cultivate curiosity, acceptance, and exploration with each experience, as it unfolds.
Many thanks to Kofi Busia, Judith Lasater, and many internet articles for inspiration and clarification for this discussion of santosa.
Please note: there are some accepted alternate spellings: Santosha, Samtosa, Samtosha
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