Monday, March 15, 2010

Is your being content?

Santosha, the second niyama, means contentment. Contentment is different than happiness. It does not preclude happiness, but contentment is more a state of being than a state of mind. States of mind come and go (believe me, I go through hundreds of them per day). States of being, on the other hand, create space and a foundation for our everyday lives. A solid foundation gives us the space to accept all the states of mind and body that enter our lives without completely throwing us off kilter.

Santosha, for me, relates to beginner's mind because both create space for all possibilities to arise. Many judges like to hire new law clerks every year; many of them say it is because they like to have the fresh perspective. A newly-minted law school graduate is similar to the Psych 101 student who tries to diagnose everyone over Thanksgiving vacation. We have answers for everything, yet we truly know almost nothing about the law and how it works every day. That is our greatest strength (at least in my opinion), when we get past our gut reactions based on what we learned in law school. Socrates said that he knew absolutely nothing. He would have discussions with people, and from those discussions, his teachings arose. It was this clearing of the mind, acceptance that we cannot claim to truly know anything, that made him so great. His teachings remain the bedrocks of western civilization.

I had a slip-up recently where I thought I knew more than I did. I know a little bit more than nothing about certain things in the law (not many). At work, we were dealing with one of them. I got way ahead of myself, and sort of made myself look a bit dumb for having missed the obvious. So, I went back and read a little more, came back to beginner's mind, and the final product was far better than my gut reaction. But I had to go back to the beginning. Too often, lawyers become "experts" in a field and never go back to see what has changed. If we miss something early in our careers, it's gone forever. I'm never surprised when students representing clients change the legal landscape at the Supreme Court. Not only are they open to all the possibilities, but they have nothing to lose. That's the beginner's mind state of being, the reason judges like to have us around, even when we may ask very simple questions. We are open to either side being "right," so we look at both sides equally.

My first yoga teaching experience focused on foundations and new beginnings. Not only was I a beginner, but there were people in the class who had never before stepped on a yoga mat. There were also people in the class with longstanding yoga experience. I was actually more worried about them; would they think the class was too easy? Too simple? Too basic? Nope - they gave me great feedback, and it was because they were grateful to be able to be in that space again. We too often forget the basics and try to stick our legs behind our heads without grounding through the feet. That's when we hurt ourselves. Going back to the basics, back to our foundation, reminds us where we started.

So, what does all of this have to do with contentment? Should we be content never advancing? Sitting on our couch all day? Not necessarily. Contentment is that foundation. When our basic state of being is contentment, we can try new adventures, and if they do not meet our full expectations, we are still content, we still have our foundation. If our adventures go above and beyond our expectations, that feeling eventually wears off. If our foundational state of being is contentment, we protect ourselves from the sugar-like crash after our exciting high. Instead of expecting particular results in life, we are content with whatever happens. 

I had quite a reminder of this today. My garbage disposal broke again (this makes three times). I called and was promised that it would be fixed today. I got home, and it was not fixed. My first reaction was to be really, really upset. I went and talked to the the apartment manager who apologized profusely - she had put the wrong apartment number on the work order. Interestingly, the guy whose apartment number she wrote had the same garbage disposal issue. Go figure. I guess he needed it more than me. I remembered santosha, and while I'm still bummed that I cannot do my dishes because my sink is clogged, I know that in the grand scheme of life it does not matter. Plus, this was the result of a mistake - what if people did not understand when I make mistakes? I am, after all, a beginner, in law, in yoga teaching, in so many areas.

Santosha, as a teaching, provides us the same space and opportunities as beginner's mind. We strive to be our best, whatever that means, and we accept that whatever happens, happens. With that mindset, my first yoga teaching experience was great. I made mistakes, of course. But I had a great time, and from what people have said, they also enjoyed the class. So, whether I'm researching the law or teaching yoga, learning to focus on santosha, coming back to that state of being has helped calm my states of mind. By no means do I not get excited when "good" things happen, or upset when "bad" things happen. Instead, santosha helps us waver less and know that we can remain content, with an open mind to new possibilities, no matter what life throws at us. 

Wishing you all a feeling of santosha.

Namaste and Blessings!


  1. It is a good day when I can remember there is no "good" or "bad." :-)

  2. Anyone who's ever worked retail - or been in any position where they have to repeat the same information over and over and over to different people - knows that it is much, MUCH easier to stay cheerful and helpful when you keep in mind that, yes, you've heard the same question a hundred times, this person has never heard the answer before.

    Going a step further, I was at a family seder last night during which the three-year-old asked at least three or four times why there was an orange on the seder plate (there has always been one in his life, so it's not new this year). It was not the first time he asked it, but each time someone else took a stab at answering it to his satisfaction, and each time it was slightly different. Pretty cool.