Santosha: Contentment

As I’ve mentioned before, during my 3-year training in Swami Niranjan-ji’s Yoga Ashram in India, the Ashram hosted the 2013 World Yoga Convention. It was an international event of large proportions and thousands of people came from across the globe to participate and learn about the next phase of Yoga that is unfolding. It was such a big event that the Government undertook to upgrade certain infrastructure in the town, such as paving roads, and being that there were not enough hotels and the like to accommodate people, local peoples' homes, as well as schools and libraries, were transformed into short-term living space for travellers. 

Things were very busy and especially inspired in the ashram at this time, and each Ashram resident was called by Swamiji to receive their special duty for the Convention. Except me! I was never called. I watched intimate meeting after intimate meeting take place on the front lawn, waiting for my turn. But, alas, it did not happen. In the end, I ended up sitting in a different type of casual meeting, feeling very awkward and not knowing exactly why I was there. The meeting ended. Still no duty. Then, as everyone was disbanding, Swami Niranjan-ji called me as what felt like a side note and instructed that I should, for only 30 minutes each morning during the Convention, perform a light cleaning of the room of a special guest. And that was it. Most people in my Course were in charge of an entire project or department leading up to and during the Convention. (I should also mention that, until this time, I had been involved in Venue Management for most programs during my course and prior to the Convention. So this really felt like my field!) And yet, after passing through the first year of my intense training, my sole contribution was to be 30min of light housekeeping. So yeah. In hindsight, I can see what this might have been all about, but because I deemed this duty "unimportant," at the time, it left my ego feeling pretty... diminished. Which in Yoga, of course, is kind of the point. I later came to understand that it is precisely these moments which are the true gems in our spiritual training, and, if we are present to it, they can be opportunities to find humility, have faith, see the positive in the situation, and choose to be happy anyway. Because happiness is really a choice.

And yet, many times at home as I raise my two precious baby boy miracles of life, I can still sometimes feel "uncalled." Which, when I stop to really think about it, is not at all how I feel. But, somehow I still catch myself sliding down into that feeling every now and again. But, of course, the truth is that my career, my job, my line of work does not define me. It does not determine my value as a human being, as a Soul.

In our society, it is not always easy to feel accomplished as a stay at home mother, whether for the duration of maternity leave or beyond. I can think of a lot of reasons for this, and I am sure that you can too. But instead of exploring the why of that feeling, I would rather like to focus on the solution to the internal feeling, instead of the solution for the external circumstances, which are often beyond our control. This internal solution is known in Yoga as Pratipaksha Bhavana, or cultivating the opposite sentiment.

In Yoga practise, we are often trying to maintain internal states of equanimity, positivity and contentment. Parenting can certainly challenge this! Santosha, or contentment, is one of the five prescribed Niyamas (self-disciplines) on the Yogic Path. Santosha means that we must find fulfilment within our own selves, instead of being dependant on the external world for it. Many times at home, my santosha is challenged when I slowly and gradually get worked up into a state of frustration. When I notice it and examine why, it is often because, in some small, subtle, subconscious way, I am resisting the current moment and still trying to live a part of the lifestyle I had before two kids.

For example, the other night I really wanted to snuggle in and watch a movie. It all began fine, but 15-20mins in, my toddler was getting restless (of course) and began playing noisily, as two-year-olds do. I was still trying to watch the movie, but with the noise and constant interruptions, it was getting more and more difficult to hear and follow the plot, and my frustration began to build toward anger. I began to steam into the train of thought that, "I just want to sit, relax and watch an entire movie for once!" Realizing that this wasn't going to be possible, I saw that I was not flowing with, nor accepting, the reality of what is. And that there really wasn't anything wrong with the reality. There was something wrong with me. I was resisting it. The reality is that I have been blessed with two beautiful, sweet, energetic boys who are 2 and under, and who I want very much.

So, I had to internally abandon the movie desire. I had to land in the present moment, embrace it, flow with it, accept it, love it. I had to remember how lucky I was for this moment, everything that had to be going right in my life for this moment to occur. And so my frustration transformed into gratitude. Disharmony to harmony. Desire to contentment. This transformation is Pratipaksha Bhavana, or cultivating the opposite sentiment. But moreover, this shift into (inner and outer) balance and harmony is Yoga.

Perhaps the biggest realization I have had thus far as parent on the path of Yoga & Parenthood is that in order to be able to raise children the way that I aspire to, to really be able to nurture the qualities and teach the lessons & skills that they will need to become confident, healthy, resilient, competent, considerate, resourceful, and responsible human beings, I must first focus on my own Spiritual practice. Because, before I can guide, I have to transform. I realized that I cannot guide my children if I do not know the process, or exercise that quality or skill that I want to teach them. Because the truth is that we do not teach them anything. We model it for them, and they learn. My spiritual life and the lives of my children are linked. This was great news for me, because I know that I can get a lot of "pow!" for my efforts! And I don't need to do it all at once to be successful, I really just need to stay present or one step ahead. 

And, Mamas, let me add that I do believe that the loving work we do as mothers is of utmost importance. First, you sacrificed so much of yourself during the pregnancy and birth of the child. You know what you did (and could not do!) This is a major accomplishment. We now know how utterly crucial the first 3 years of a child's life are for building a solid, healthy foundation from which they will grow and thrive for the rest of their life. If we do not continuously give our unconditional love, attention and sound-guidance to our children, they may not develop the skills, health nor self-esteem to truly blossom in life. It is not only a tragedy to themselves, but to the world in which they contribute and live. In my opinion, Mothers (and all caretakers) are the foundation of the planet.

There is a saying in Yoga that inspires my own practice,

"Thought creates action, action creates behaviour, behaviour creates personality, 

personality creates destiny."

Your yoga practice, your quality of life, your inner environment, matter very much. It deeply affects you, and everyone around you. So, if you ever feel at home like you're not getting anything done, take comfort in knowing that you are helping shape the destinies of yourself, your children and the planet.

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