Fight Club, Desire, Trophies, Yoga, and Gardens. Strap in.
The word, “santosha,” is Sanskrit for contentment or inner peace.
In the fast-paced world of today, where instant gratification is king, it’s easier now more than ever to be eager for the “next thing.” New iPhones, new movies, new shows, new gadgets, new this, new that, what’s next?! But how fulfilled are we really after season 2, episode 5? Did Chuck Palahniuk have it right when he wrote, “the things you own end up owning you,” in Fight Club? Or is there more to it than that?
Every one of us, whether conscious of it or not, is looking for the same thing: Inner Peace. I believe human beings are ultimately destined to be happy, but we do our best to prolong or even fight the process out of fear of failure or a greater desire to satisfy our egos, which, of course, can never be satisfied. Trust me, I’ve tried. A bunch.
Peace is the need for nothing more than what we already have; it is the contentment with what is happening. It is the ability to make a choice with a smile. It is accepting that which we cannot change. It is breathing and relaxing. It is being ok with challenges, and contradictions, working with them and through them, and having faith that life will go on. It is diving into the middle of chaos with a curious mind and a warrior’s heart. It is accepting your true nature, with all its wounds and kinks, and all its beauty. It is signing on to a process and seeing where it takes you.
It’s tempting and easy to think, “if I just have _____,” then I’ll be happy. I just need that car, partner, money, job, etc., and then I’ll be happy. Then, I’ll be content. Then, I can relax. And there is something to this; desire is a natural human emotion that helps to keep us motivated. However, it’s not that simple.
In her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith writes, “If we do not desire anything, the senses shut down. We lose our aliveness. we have no impetus to move forward. The object of desire may not be necessary, but the feeling of desire is the soul’s longing to move forward.” I find this last sentence the most profound. She’s saying that the thing we want isn’t really that important, it’s not actually as nourishing as the wanting itself. So desire isn’t evil. It’s just that achieving your desire is usually less powerful than Desire, itself.
What about goals? How do they relate to desire and inner peace? Goals are a more structured form of desire, desire as correlated with or embedded into your life’s purpose. Goals typically take longer than desires and require more work or participation. Goals are desires with more at stake, and they tend to illuminate the desire itself, more than the outcome, helping us realize our own unique process and purpose with each. They help us move through this wild world with a sense of direction. Just like desire, the goal itself, the end, isn’t more powerful than the process and participation, although it is symbolic of such work. We might even be better off saying “screw the prize,” in the end...
Feel free to pause on this for a moment, I know I had to when I first read it!
Let’s take an example of a major goal (or “fruit,”): Winning the NCAA Basketball Championship. Happy March Madness.
Obtaining the tournament trophy is the goal of the players and the teams, but that trophy they get can’t possibly compare to all the effort, sweat, and teamwork the players went through to get there, but it also doesn’t have to compare. Once achieved, it’s symbolic of the process and it validates their effort, but it does not replace it. Additionally, their work isn’t done once they get it. Next year, the goal is the same and helps promote more effort, more desire, more process, more participation, and the more they participate in this, the more they become aware of it, and the more they generate inner peace. How else do you think the great players remain so calm under so much pressure? It’s not because they’ve won a trophy, most haven’t. It’s because they’ve entered into a process they deem important, and they work hard with focus, determination, self-discipline, patience, and faith.
Back to you and me. The above quote about the renunciation of actions, first assumes we’re making actions. Well, what is an action? According to renowned yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, it is a conscious movement. “Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” Thus contentment or peace is more precisely located somewhere inside action itself.
And this is how yoga works, but whether it’s basketball, your job, a hobby, or anything you deem important, there is a process that requires your attention, your action. You don’t have to have a yoga practice to get inner peace, but it will help. The qualities mentioned above, focus, determination, etc., are essential human qualities realized in yoga practice. As these are realized, we remove stress and promote peace. That said, you can realize these qualities in any process if you pay attention.
Question: How do I be content?
Answer: Set a goal, something important to you, and embrace the process. I like the specific wording of this question because it’s not, “What do we need to be content?” The word “how,” asks us to consider a way of being, not a thing or achievement. “How,” suggests adopting a series of actions over time. Think of a garden. What does a garden need to grow? Soil, seeds, water, sunlight. But you can’t just throw those ingredients in a pile and, POOF, you have a garden! The garden requires research, and planning, and seasons, and timing, and work, and getting your hands dirty, and details, and patience. It requires a process. You cultivate Inner Peace much more with this kind of diligence than with a single transaction of instant gratification.
Instant gratification isn’t really gratification at all. Gratification implies gratitude, and let's face it, are we really “grateful,” for that new phone or tv show, or shoes? Maybe sometimes, if we were desperate, or worked really hard to get it, but most of the time, we’re just buzzed by the novelty. Instantly in, instantly out...
Goals with longer scopes and processes challenge us to pay attention and provide consistent effort over time. Both yogis and musicians know this as “practice,” which is a helpful way to think about actions in your process. It takes away some of the pressure. There is peace that comes in the act of practice, maybe not instantly, but a seed is planted when you decide to make something happen with intention. When you return to that space consistently, you nurture the seed and it will begin to grow. At first, it may seem like nothing is really happening, and this is the most tempting time to quit. (Why won’t you grow and turn into a big, beautiful plant with delicious tomatoes, already, seed?!) And indeed, this is where most people do quit. “I tried it once, wasn’t very good/didn’t like it, oh well, it’s not important. The end.”
And maybe it’s not that important, but maybe you just didn’t want to learn more about how you deal with a new challenge. Maybe you were actually afraid of not being good at something. Maybe you’re just letting laziness and apathy get the better of you. Maybe you’re just impatient. I don’t know. What I do know is that consistent effort over time produces valuable results, not just in the thing itself, but in us. It’s the reason baking a cake is “more special” than buying a cake. Even if it sucks, you and your family bonded over making that terrible cake, and you’ll know how to do it better next time.
When you enter into a process that takes time and effort, you’re required to find out what you’re made of. You start to see your patterns and how you learn. You get to see your attributes more clearly, as well as face your deficiencies, both of which give you a clearer picture of yourself, which can be scary but also enlightening.
You learn how to struggle, how to persevere, how to do it even when you don’t want to, building self-discipline and character. All this together, this movement, believing in and participating in a process you deem important, going through a challenge and coming out the other side, that’s where peace is, that’s where we learn how to be content. It’s not in the tomato, any more than it is in the seed.
Practicum 1: Gratitude
This is a great practice that anyone can do and takes very little time and even less space. I like doing this in the morning, but any time works.
1. Find a quiet spot where you can sit up straight, comfortably, and won’t be disturbed. I have a room in my house I like. Nature is always good. But, hey, you could do it in a parking lot!
2. Close your eyes and start to breathe deeply in and out by your nose.
3. Place your hands over your heart. One on top of the other.
4. Start to think of anyone or anything for which you are grateful. People, places, jobs, things, nature, a trip, etc. It can be helpful to start with close loved ones and spiral out from there.
5. Spend at least one full breath on each subject of gratitude and more breaths as needed.
Take a moment at the end and notice how good you feel.
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Practicum 2: If you currently have a yoga practice, try repeating the mantra, “thank you,” (in your head, although it would be hilarious to say it outloud) during your next session. Up-level: every posture. Down-level: at the beginning and end of class.
Practicum 3: Pick up a hobby or practice, anything you think would be good for you or fun; perhaps something you’ve always wanted to do but never made the time or was afraid of, such as learning an instrument, painting, gardening, rock climbing, yoga (duh), or whatever. But stick with it, commit to at least 5 classes or lessons or outings, etc. Journal how it goes. Any progress is progress.