From an attitude of contentment, unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.
santosha anuttamah sukha labhahYoga Sutras 2.42, translated by Swami Jnaneshvara
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a centuries-old text discussing certain yoga principles and practices, includes in its second chapter a listing of eight rungs, or limbs, of the practice. Of these, niyama, (commonly translated as observances) comprises the second limb. Of niyama there are five components, one of which is contentment–santosha in Sanskrit.
Since upstream states of mind-heart influence the downstream states of physical health, one intent on both cultivating good health and avoiding ill health would be keenly interested in this noble attitude.
On the bright side of the coin, right cultivation of contentment has as its natural and logical result states of sukha: happiness-comfort-joy-satisfaction. And not just on the level of the ordinary, either–the text includes the word anuttamah, ”unexcelled”.
Building from this idea: The state of anuttamah sukha has as its natural and logical result beneficial lifestyle habits. Who, in such an uplifted state, would choose lifestyle habits which are harmful to one’s being or to others? Even if one were to inadvertently veer off the path, the resultant distasteful result would lead to a sense of compunction. From compunction, one would naturally course-correct.
Beneficial lifestyle habits have as their natural and logical result optimal health. How could one harvest bad fruits from healthy trees?
What do you think–are the above propositions solid?
Now if the cultivation of contentment brings about the above-mentioned uplifting results (all of which fall under the idea of sukha, the Sanskrit word used in the original text), what might ”anti-santosha” attitudes bring? Let’s examine the opposites of these benefits for ideas:
unexcelled: conditional, third-best, meh, dependent on others
happiness: unhappiness, misery, boredom
comfort: discomfort, dis-ease
joy: sorrow, suffering
satisfaction: dissatisfaction, discontent, restlessness
If contentment brings commensurate sukha, then does not
For those of us intent on cultivating good health and avoiding ill health, the dark side of the coin–these downfallen states–is obviously deserving of attention. Why? States of ill health, whether slight, middling, or super f*cked-up, are related to these ”anti-sukha” states when such are habitual.
That is, chronic, persistent misery (or dissatisfaction, or happiness dependent on others, or any related downfallen state of mind-heart)–which naturally and logically follows from a chronic, persistent state of discontent–is without doubt a factor in the development of disease.
Just as a skillful gardener is mindful of both beneficial ornamentals and harmful pests/weeds, cultivating health is not only about planting the positive. Keeping a keen eye on the negative and learning how to properly relate to it is just as important.
Rather than superimpose a manufactured contentment onto a real situation of discontentment, it is often the greater service to go deeper into those unhappy places within ourselves and seek to understand the heart of that discontentment–so that our indwelling intuitive wisdom can show us, through insights, where the errors are.
Just as a compassionate doctor listens to the sick patient the with the right amount of clinical objectivity and distance in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis and administer the correct treatment, so too can we practice letting our more evolved self-levels–which are not tangled up with the self-authored personality dramas–connect in with our loneliness and misery.
In other words, wisdom and non-wisdom get together in the same room at the same time. Wisdom, being unconditionally loving, teaches non-wisdom. Non-wisdom, being in need of guidance, renders itself teachable and learns from wisdom.
The practice of contentment–lovingly accepting what is, as-is, here and now–is one way to connect in with that Higher Self which, one can argue, is a goal of yoga practice. Agitation is stilled, clarity results, better decisions are made; anuttamah sukha is the fruit we reap in due time.
At least that’s how I heard it. Now I gotta go and put all that into practice. And stumble. And fall. And get over it. And smile. And get up. And keep on keepin’ on.