Simplicity & Santosha: Integrating Pandemic Change

As we begin to anticipate and see signs of life returning to normal, I've been reflecting about the changes my family and I made over the past year and a half, and which of those changes constitute growth that would be worth carrying forward and integrating into our post-pandemic life.

Although we have been largely limited recently in our ability to explore the outside world, we have undoubtedly (if not relentlessly) been exploring our inner world: our anger, frustration, sadness, feelings of helplessness, overwhelm, fear and anxiety, grief, sense of injustice; and yet, in the face of these, we have also explored our empathy, humility, sense of community, creativity in problem solving, service to others, and appreciation of new, simpler joys in life. 

This prolonged period of adversity and constant inner adjustment throughout the pandemic has caused many of us to rise to new levels of global and self awareness, inner independence, inner freedom, and inner joy, though we may not quite realize it yet.

What happens when you have been working outside in the heat of the peak of summer, sweating, thirsty, aching and then finally at the end of the day you are invited to move indoors into a cool, air conditioned room? Suddenly life seems so comfortable and easy! Yet, if you had worked the whole day in that air conditioned room, you would not have appreciated the break from the heat so much, nor would you have gained that same strength which suddenly made life out of the sun seem so easy.

In Yoga, we are constantly learning how to deal with our own inner heat: our anger, our greed, our endless desires, our jealousies, our arrogance, all the raw, unrefined inner qualities that burn us from the inside out and can make ordinary life seem so uncomfortable.

The pandemic has burned many of us. No doubt it has been a humbling experience for humanity. Definitely I wish that it had never happened and, at the same time, part of being an aspiring Yogi is to always try to find the silver lining, to find something that we can learn, and to use the adversity as a launching pad for self-transformation. I'm not saying that we always succeed, but I think we do succeed more than we give ourselves credit for just by going through the natural process of life. 

Previously, my little family of 4 was always on the go. My kids were enrolled in everything and we were always out of the house. At the time, I thought that I was helping their development and socialization, running from gymnastics to music, to soccer, to art class, to swimming, to play cafes, to playgrounds, to playdates - and definitely there's no doubt that these activities are good for them. But, the more I reflect back after being mostly at home with my kids over the past year and a half without much help and my husband at work most of the time, I realize now that we went out so much because I didn't know how to just be home with the kids in harmony and joy. If we were home for too long, they would become antsy, and things would start to get chaotic. So we would go out! Let someone else lead that class while we just have fun (and I take a breath)!

But no, this was a luxury mostly lost to us for the past year and a half. I had to face many difficult moments and days at home with my kids. I was burnt out from constantly remaining in one role day-in-and-day-out, momming 24/7 and being constantly interrupted no matter what essential task I was trying to accomplish. I became exhausted. My ability to concentrate whittled away. My anger surfaced. My frustration surfaced. But I didn't want to be angry. I wanted to enjoy these precious years with my kids at home while they are young. So, that became the platform for finding patience, giving up caffeine, letting go of a certain amount of organization, having less, doing less (and mostly just what is essential), learning to flow with what is instead of what I want, and finding joy in the simple, mundane, every day moments of life. I still have moments I'm not proud of, but they are much fewer and farther in between, and the intensity of the emotion is much less. That inner fire doesn't burn me like it used to.

Now, I feel like my inner environment is able to more closely match the simplicity of the outer routine. I have gone through the withdrawal of having less and doing less, and have found the way to increased peace, gratitude, presence, and joy. I don't need to have as much or do as much to feel content and satisfied with life. I am able to appreciate and find joy at home and in the simple things: in the garden, doing art with my kids, sitting and reading books, bath time, going for a drive, making food, watching a show, family trips to the grocery store, even comforting my son during a mild tantrum (awwww). We cuddle, we snack, we nap, we sing, we dance, we explore, we sit, we play.

The mind is a funny thing. Oftentimes, the less we have, the happier we are. The more we have, the more we want, we crave, we need. The fire burns and the mind will not let us rest from our pursuit of fulfillment. Now that I have discovered the link between simplicity and santosha, or contentment, I don't want to slide back into my old ways once all is accessible again. Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to life opening up again, connecting with community and doing more. But I will be doing it in a more measured and mindful way. A simple life is more than enough.

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