Over the past month, I have been spending time in an ashram in Thailand learning yoga philosophy, one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. One of the concepts I learned here is santosha – contentment of the current state or gratitude. Living in a modern society, we are typically unhappy with ourselves, the current state of situations, or what we have. We have been trained by social pressures and the modern environment to be ingrained to indulge in material things. Through this conditioning, we see material things as objects that provide us happiness or stimulation. Coming from the West, so much importance is placed on material objects in life. You see people with Ferraris, Coach bags, new gadgets…oh this list goes on! In the East, after seeing how people live and the smiles on their faces, I’ve come to understand that the way we’ve been conditioned to think in the West is a misled way of life. On one of my walks in the village earlier today, I saw the Thai gardener of the ashram the other day riding his bike to go home. He lives a minimal life and was riding his bike with a ripped t-shirt. He’s always smiling. His smile brings smiles to me and the other students in the ashram. His work is the same each day – maintenance of the garden, yet when we pass by him everyday he’s always so happy. A lot of the Thai which I’ve seen in the village are like this. Minimalist living with genuine, warm smiles on their faces. We don’t typically see this in the West. I’ve also seen a mother breastfeeding her child with her breasts exposed in the public bus. This mother was happy too. The basic need is that the child needs breast milk, yet in most societies today we demand a separate room with well-stocked supplies for breastfeeding. We have been conditioned to always want more. The majority of our minds work on the premise that what we have is not enough and we need the next best thing.
What has been hinted above is that in the majority of societies today, we also have the perceived notion that we are entitled to a lot of things – again many of which may include the necessities of life for others who may be less fortunate. These necessities of life include clean water, food on the table, and shelter – among other things. We typically don’t need to ask ourselves if there will be food for dinner. Instead, we expect that there be food for dinner. We also expect that our food be in a certain way – with specific spices and of a specific taste with specific ingredients. A balanced, nutritious diet should be a human rights standard, but we go to the extent on being picky with our food and ingredients used in our cooking. Others who happen to be less unfortunate may not be able to have access to food for dinner. Our social environment has ingrained us to think that we are entitled to more than all necessities in life.
The practice of santosha – gratitude and contentment of the current state – is then an important quality to cultivate in oneself. We typically spend so much time in life looking for the “next best thing”. We judge and then complain when things aren’t to our liking. We develop strong likes and dislikes that drive our way of life. The coffee we have in the morning then must be from Starbucks and with whipped cream and sprinkled cinnamon on the top. These strong likes become our attachments since they give us give us strong positive feelings and we then elect to distant ourselves from the strong dislikes that give us negative feelings. Our happiness then is derived from external things which give us positive feelings. For some, this might be posting a picture on Instagram and achieving a certain number of likes. For others, it might be going shopping. These external things then become our dependencies; they become our source of happiness. When our dependencies are not met, then we become unhappy. Missing a coffee in the morning then makes us unhappy – sometimes throughout the day. Through practicing santosha, you will slowly realize that material things aren’t the source to true happiness. You will slowly start to be okay with what-is – the present moment. You will also slowly be able to redirect your thoughts to being happy wherever you are no matter what you have. You will also naturally gravitate towards the positive view in every situation instead of the negative view. Becoming more tolerant to whatever comes your way and being less anxious about the future slowly becomes second nature for you. Little things in life which you took for granted then give you happiness and your dependence on material objects to bring happiness decrease. The simple awareness of breathing and being alive then becomes the source of happiness. By being alive, you then realize that you can use your life in this existence to make an impact on the world.
To cultivate and strengthen santosha in your life, one practice that I’ve found useful is being mindful of my food before I eat. I sit silently before eating each meal to be grateful of the food on my plate. I think of those who are unable to have a meal and also think of those involved in growing, transporting, selling, and cooking the food on the plate in front of me. So much work is involved in the production of food and there’s a long chain of actions which took place before the food landed on our plate. Practicing eating in silence can also help me with the practice of santosha. It’s amazing how eating in silence can allow you to observe your thoughts. Some of our thoughts will be on things not related to our food, but sometimes our thoughts will be on our food. We may find the food too salty to our liking or lacking in spice. By being aware of these thoughts on the present as not enough, we can then reflect on what is preventing us to be grateful for the plate of food we have in front of us. Our complaint might be that the food does not have enough spice. Upon reflection, you may find out many reasons. Say you find out it is due to feelings of entitlement. Then think of those who are not able to have a meal. You may then realize that food is just a means to sustain ourselves – it’s a means to an end. When you practice more of santosha when you eat, you will slowly see how this quality can help with other parts of life. It’s okay not looking for the “next best thing”. It’s okay with being in a situation that might give you a sour taste in your mouth such as going through the long security line at an airport. You’ll soon have your turn to clear security. Other people are also enduring the long line too. Use that time to experience the present moment! You’re also going on a flight – be grateful for that opportunity! You would have been otherwise stuck at home!
Another daily practice which has been beneficial for me with cultivating and strengthening my santosha is listing 10 things I am grateful for, nightly before I go to bed. This was an onerous task for me at the beginning – sometimes I took more than 20 minutes to write the list. Many times in life, we don’t look back at our day and be thankful for the things that we have, are given to us, or happen to us. I encourage you to take some time each evening to list 10 things you are grateful for. Try not to skip a day. Try this for a month – you’ll notice you begin to appreciate smaller things in life more! If you are in a relationship, have your partner also write their list and exchange your lists each day. The sharing of your lists can even help you strengthen your relationship! If you’re single, don’t fret! Share some of your points with a friend – you might brighten their day! Stay smiling! 😊
Stay warm if you’re somewhere cold and stay cool if you’re somewhere hot!
Love and light,