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Santoṣa (pronounced Santosha)– contentment, or joy – is one of the yogic qualities to be fostered and developed; it is the second component of Niyama – the disciplinary rules of personal practice that Patanjali provides in the Yoga Sutras. Santosa requires us to accept reality as it is and to see the ‘full part of our glass’. As B Grace Bullock and Emma Newlyn mention, this isn’t an easy task, especially in our modern western society. In a previous article, I explained the concept of Santosa. In this article, I present a practice that will help you to cultivate this important quality. We are practicing Santosa and this Niyama by acknowledging the good instead of concentrating on what is missing or what has gone wrong.
Why is it important to practice Santosa?
Practicing Santosa is important because our consciousness often leans toward the negative. It only takes waking up in the morning ‘on the wrong side’ to affect our entire day; even if we woke up cheerful, insignificant things going wrong can color our entire experience. If the car won’t start in the morning, or if it does start, but we get stuck in traffic, we get stressed and upset. One person with an unkind remark can instantly darken our mood; we may covet something someone else has and we become sad and frustrated.
Our consciousness tends to yearn, always wanting more, never satisfied with what is and we already have. So quickly we forget the good in our life, all the simple and basic conditions that are more than enough to make us happy. We easily get used to and take for granted everything that functions well, everything that has succeeded. When we are healthy we never notice and appreciate the working of our body, but it only takes one small thing in our bodily functions to go wrong for us to understand how the proper functioning of all complex bodily systems cannot be taken for granted, and how happy we are when our health is good, albeit not necessarily perfect.
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The Five Reflections
In Buddhist teachings, there are five observations or reflections of acknowledging goodness and gratitude. These can be the foundation for practicing Santosa. These five are:
- The well-being and abundance we have
- The love we have received and are receiving
- The freedom and security we have
- The path, our practice, and our community of practitioners (Sangha)
Appreciating Our Health
The first reflection is health. The almost trite adage “health is the most valuable gift” is so very true. Health is a precondition for joy! We can celebrate our health and rejoice in it even when we experience health issues; our heart is beating, our lungs are functioning, we are able to breathe. The digestive system works, the rest of the systems also function relatively well. The very fact that we woke up in the morning is a reason to rejoice – we have another day to live! Another day to learn, practice, experiment, love! Remembering all these every day can increase your Santosa!
Read the following reflection of the Zen Master, Tich Nhat Hanh
When we are concentrating on our eyes, we find out very soon that we still have eyes in a good condition, and it is a wonderful thing to have eyes that are still in a good condition. It is a very basic condition for your happiness and for your peace. Those of us who have lost our eyesight, they cannot see anything. And it is their deepest desire to recover the capacity of seeing. They tell us that if they could see things again then it would be like going back to paradise. It is true. The paradise of forms and colors is wonderful. You need only sit down and open your eyes and look and breathe mindfully in order to be in paradise, in that paradise of forms and colors.Under the Banyan Tree by: Thích Nhất Hạnh
Now take a moment for the following reflection:
Sit upright, relax your body and connect to your breath for a few minutes. Then repeat:
- How good it is that my body is still in good enough health
- How blessed I am to have a body that can breathe, see, hear, walk, …
Repeat this for a few minutes. Try to do it as often as you can during your day, especially when encountering difficulty or frustration. This will form a habit of practicing Santosa and experiencing Santosa!
Appreciating Our Economical Wellbeing
The second reflection – well-being is giving thanks for all the abundance in our life. This does not mean appreciating our luxuries, but rather, our basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. We can take some time off the ‘rat-race’ of survival and devote this time to practice! Many, maybe even most people in our world do not have this privilege.
Even if we may experience financial hardship, or are having a difficult time making ends meet, still, we have so much! We have a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep in, a refrigerator full of nourishing food, running water, and electricity. We can even shower or bathe with hot water (a luxury that was once available to only the upper echelons of society). We can regulate the temperature in our living environment, we have technological means that enable us to do so much. We have access to so much information; we can study any subject and virtually meet so many teachers of all topics and expertise. All this abundance that is available to us should not be taken for granted and is worth appreciating and being thankful for. Gratitude is the key to Santosa!
Take a moment to reflect these:
- How good it is that all my needs are being taken care of
- How blessed I am to have all that I have!
Appreciating the Love We Received
The third reflection is the love we have received. The mere fact that we grew up to be human beings who can manage their lives reasonably well indicates we received a great deal of love as children. We had a supportive environment, loving and caring parents, and many others caregivers, many of which we don’t even remember, that made efforts to raise us with love and security. We were privileged to be educated and to learn in a caring environment. Even today, we receive love from family members, friends, and the community around us. We should appreciate this and have gratitude for all these people!
Take a moment to reflect these:
- How good it is that I got, and still get so much love and affection from family, friends…
- How blessed I am to receive so much love and be able to reciprocate the love!
Appreciating Our Freedom and Security
The fourth reflection – freedom, and security. Even if it seems to us, especially now during the era of Covid (when this post was written), that our freedom and security are restricted or that our steps are narrowed, we still enjoy a great deal of freedom and security. We are allowed to think and say what we want, we can study any subject, we have the freedom of movement, the freedom of speech, the freedom to express opinions and protest. We feel secure enough to go everywhere and to manage our life normally without meeting threats at every step. It should not be taken for granted. Most of the world’s population does not have this privilege. Many parts of the world are ruled by dictatorial regimes that monitor their citizens and restrict their freedom in various ways. Many people in our world live at constant risk of war, terror, or armed robbery and never feel safe and secure. We, despite all the issues, still enjoy a great deal of relative freedom and security.
Take a moment to reflect these:
- How good it is that I feel secure and safe
- How blessed I am to live in a place that provides relativly good freedom and security!
Appreciating Our Yogic Path
The fifth reflection is the path. We, yogis and yoginis, have a practice that helps us to lead a better life and become better human beings. What a great privilege! The fact that the yogic tradition has been preserved for thousands of years, that countless teachers have practiced, preserved, and passed it down from one generation to the next. The fact that this tradition is widespread in the world and has reached our doorstep. The fact that there are plenty of good teachers from whom we can learn and be inspired to practice. The fact that there are enough people who are interested in yoga and want to practice and learn – without them there would be no teachers nor learning. All this should not be taken for granted. It is a privilege to live in a world where this learning is available to us and we should be thankful that we have it and that we have the motivation, dedication, diligence, and ability to practice and develop, making our lives and the lives of those around us better. A major reason for our contentment and joy (Santosa), and a great opportunity for practicing Santosa!
Take e moment to reflect these:
- How good it is that I found that path of yoga that brings so much joy to my life
- How blessed I am to be able to practice and progress in this spirtual path!
Make it a Daily Practice
Recently, during my morning meditation, I have been systematically pondering these five reflections dedicating a few moments to each of them. This practice, like any mindfulness practice, is necessary in order to remember (the word ‘mindfulness’ stems from the Sanskrit word Smritti memory, remembering, or recollection). With practice, this mindset will become increasingly more present and available to us during our day-to-day life. When one practices acknowledging good on a daily basis, one becomes accustomed to a mind state of being thankful for all that is, acknowledging that we have been blessed with so much. If we persist in this there will be a greater chance that when things go wrong or when problems arise, we will remember to reflect on all the good we have. Instead of concentrating on the problem or disruption, we can stop for a moment and remember the good we have been fortunate enough to receive.
Even while practicing asanas – when we encounter difficulty or limitation, when we experience rigidity and resistance, we can remember and appreciate all that we are indeed able to do and rejoice in it. It is not obvious that we can practice and despite the difficulties and limitations, we are still capable of so much! This deserves our gratitude.
A Few Related Quotes
Here are three quotes that can help you to develop Santosa:
Teach Me, My God; By Leah Goldberg
Translated from Hebrew by Eleanor Schlesinger
Teach me my God to bless and pray the secret of a withered leaf the glitter of ripe fruit the freedom to see, to sense, to breath to know, to yearn, to fail. Teach my lips blessings and a song of praise as time renews itself, night and day so that my day will not be as yesterday or the day before so that my day does not become a habit.
Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV
Translated from Hebrew by Eleanor Schlesinger.