Happy is an Inside Job

The Yoga is so much more than the physical practice. Don’t get me wrong, the physical practice was my way in and continues to be one of the places I experience true presence, both in teaching and practicing. People travel to foreign countries to learn about the yoga  because it is a culture, a religion, a tradition, that has been passed down for generations. The healing power and knowledge inside of this tradition is slowly starting to make its way into Western lifestyles with the scientific community affirming the experiences that practitioners have felt for thousands of year. Yoga changes lives for the better, but it’s not because we nail a handstand or a crow pose that our lives are changed. Yoga has the ability to change the way we see and interact with the world at large and the universe that exists inside of us.

More recently, my own journey has lead, again and again and again, to the concept of santosha. One of the niyamas, the five moral observances of the yoga, it’s literal translation is total contentment. I have asked myself these questions countless times the last 8 months.  Am I happy with my life and my choices?  Can I stand behind them? Can I stand behind the person I am and the person I am becoming? When the answer to any of these questions is no, this feeling of being lost lingers over everyday life. In it’s purest sense, contentment is accepting exactly where we are, but if that friction exists, if we are constantly lost, it is a hard task to be exactly where we are.

In a decision that, to an outsider, looks like it came out of nowhere, I decided last week to pack up my life and move across the country (a more detailed explanation of that choice later). At the heart of it was this idea of contentment. I am a person who spends most of my life doing things for other people because that brings me such joy and fulfillment. I know it is my purpose during this lifetime to serve others. It is equally as important to take care of myself. There are many things that happen to a person throughout their lives.  These events, circumstances, conflicts, successes, feelings, thoughts, they all are like the ocean during a hurricane.  They create monstrous waves that crash on top of each other.  Everything is wet. Something so beautiful turns into something so turbulent. Even in the most horrible of storms, if you dive deep enough under the waves, all the way to the bottom of the ocean, there is stillness and calm and cool sand to hold on to. Spending our existence floating on the top of the water leaves us vulnerable to the ups and down, the storms and the blazing sun. Cultivating santosha means diving deep under the thoughts and the feelings and the external circumstances to find contentment in the stillness inside of us.

But contentment doesn’t mean passivity. Stillness sometimes takes more strength than movement. Standing with integrity, acting with honor, can be a frightening choice in a world that wants things done as quickly as possible, by any means necessary. It doesn’t mean that we must sit on the sidelines of our lives and “be okay” with whatever happens. Contentment, or joy, doesn’t come from acquiescing to other people’s idea of what your life should look like.  Instead, Santosha is understanding exactly where we are, what our truth is, and moving from that place. Cultivating contentment is an active choice of living inside reality, which includes as many moments of comfort as discomfort.  Often this means wading through the vastness of discomfort because this is the place of growth and discovery.  When we are forced to face ourselves in the midst of high stakes decisions, we see who we really are.  What do you believe, what do you stand for, removed from the expectations of who other people think you should be?

True contentment doesn’t come from things outside of the self: accolades, fame, experiences, other people, material possessions, money. Those things won’t bring contentment in the way that a yogi understands contentment. They may bring a moment of appeasement for the ego, or a sliver of ephemeral happiness, but contentment in its truest sense exists no matter the external circumstances.  Things can be going very well or they can be completely falling apart. You stand in the middle of it all with the same pureness. The more we attach our idea of happiness to circumstances outside of the self, the more we condemn ourselves to a life of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Happy is an inside job.

Feelings will come and go.  Thoughts, too, will flow. So, if we remain, even after the feelings, even after the thoughts, that must mean who we are is much deeper than those things.  Our contentment is deeper than the objects and titles we possess. Our contentment is deeper than our relationships. Our contentment lives deep under the waves and the storms and the sunshine. It resides in the stillness of who we are in the present moment and our ability to move from that place.