The world as we know it in the spring of 2020 is weird. In the past few weeks most of the world has had to shift their normal operating procedures significantly. There is an imperative need to stay at home, shelter in place, and slow down…not only for our own safety, but to protect the larger community that we live in.
Shifting of gears like this can evoke feelings of resistance. Fear of scarcity is a tangible thing right now (as illustrated by the rush on toilet paper). For many, this slowing down is financially devastating. Their opportunities to earn a living have been abruptly cut off (how you can help). For others the lack of connection or human contact is creating an environment of isolation and loneliness. The real fear of what will happen next is nearly overwhelming (who to talk to for mental health support).
In the midst of this weird moment, there is an opportunity to pay attention. To notice what is essential and what we are addicted to. (Apparently, we have to have coffee and bread in our house.) In this moment we can cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.42 states that through contentment (santosha), the highest happiness is gained. Santosha is the experience of unconditional happiness, a state that allows us to find contentment in any situation. Santosha is included as one of the five niyamas, where Patanjali suggests that it is not just a state of mind but something to be practiced and cultivated.
Let’s take a moment to differentiate between complacency and contentment. Complacency is defined as self-satisfaction paired with a lack of awareness about actual dangers or deficiencies, or the desire to change/improve circumstances. This definition includes the lack of awareness or desire to change. Contentment means that you are happy in this moment, appreciating things as they are right now. This happiness includes a recognition of ALL that this moment includes (good, bad, and even scary) and a connection to the feeling of gratitude for all that you have in this moment with the intention of moving forward from here.
But how can you be content, happy in this moment, when it is full of so much to fear? Certainly, in this moment of a global pandemic, the fear and urgency are strong – but fear of what is coming is a common human mindset – not special to this moment. NOW is the time to pay attention, to recognize all that we do have AND how we want to move forward.
So how do you cultivate contentment? Recognize all that you DO you have.
Set a timer for 5-10minutes (or however much time you have). Come into a comfortable seated posture. Close your eyes and take 10 slow, deep breaths – breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus your attention on your body, stable and at ease.
As you focus, shift your attention to notice the workings of your mind. Imagine watching your thoughts as if they are a movie on the big screen, observing your thoughts without getting caught up in them. Take a moment to recognize thought/actions that are directed by desire for more or different. You don’t have to change anything, just observe without judgement. Watch what fears come into your mind…notice that these are just thoughts and you can maintain equanimity as you observe. Recognize your habit patterns – what you miss or can’t wait to do when life gets back to “normal.” Just noticing the workings of your mind.
Now, shift your attention to the space around your heart. Bring to mind something that you are grateful for – could be one thing, could be many things. Take a minute to fill you mind with the gifts of your life. Imagine that feeling of gratitude is like a light. Each time you inhale, visualize that light expanding each time you inhale until the light fills your entire body. Continue to imagine that light expanding beyond the boundaries of your body, sending that light – that feeling of gratitude – to all of the people you love.