One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read more
Most of these summer days, the sky tips our faces upward and it feels good to remember just how small we stand amongst all this wonder.Read more
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
The start of a new year is always a reflective time for me, and it’s a time that I enjoy immensely. There’s a sense of quiet and simplicity after the holiday rush, and I relish the slower, wintery pace of this new season. At the same time, there’s also a sense of freshness to this time of year, a desire for things to come that’s hidden inside the chilly air.
At a time of year when many people are setting resolutions and goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about santosa, one of Patanjali’s niyamas, or rules of conduct, in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Santosa means contentment, and according to B.K.S Iyengar in Light on Yoga, santosa is something that has to be cultivated. “A mind that is not content cannot concentrate,” he says.
What is interesting to me about santosa is its relationship to desire: “There is contentment and tranquility when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire.”
I’ve been running these words over in my mind all week, contemplating their meaning in the context of a new year with new goals, and perhaps also with an acute sense of what I feel is lacking in my current life and what I want to do about it in 2016. How can I cultivate santosa while at the same time knowing that certain aspects of my life need to change? My desire for things to be different seems to be in conflict with my practice of tranquility.
While I’m not typically one for hard and fast new year’s resolutions, I often come up with a general theme I’d like to work with throughout the year. For example, “Have More Fun” or “Wait and See.” It’s a simple way of approaching each year’s twists and turns with different mentalities and being curious about the results. This year I’ve settled on the always appropriate, “Relax.”
So how can I relax while also wrestling with the aspects of my life that seem unsatisfying and in need of change? Don’t I need to be doing something?
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Santosa does not imply that we should not take action, that we should not work hard toward goals or take ourselves out of less than ideal situations or try to improve our lives. What santosa does imply however, is that through a cultivated practice of contentment, we might begin to know the difference between the choices that the changing, sometimes fickle nature of desire leads us to make and following paths that open to us when we work with a focused yet tranquil mind.
This can be a subtle and difficult discernment to make, and when examining our hopes and wishes for a new year in light of santosa, I think it’s important to remember that it’s human nature to want things to be different than how they are. It’s one of the most common trappings of the mind and one of the most detrimental thought patterns to our mental well-being. We can become addicted to our feelings of dissatisfaction and our attempts to control our surroundings in order to feel more satisfied. This may temporarily provide relief, but rarely offers the permanent sense of “I’m OK now” that we were hoping for. The hard truth is that that feeling never comes. The nature of life itself is impermanence.
I prefer “groundlessness” for this idea, taken from Pema Chödrön in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Her ideas on working with groundlessness are helping me sculpt a practice for santosa this winter:
“This basic meditation technique is designed to help us remain open and receptive not only to our thoughts and emotions, not only to outer circumstances and the people we encounter, but also to groundlessness itself, to this underlying energy that is so threatening to the part of us that wants certainty. This practice allows us to get very close to this edgy, uncomfortable energy. It allows us to become familiar with nothing to hold on to, with stepping into the next moment without knowing what will happen. It gives us practice in taking a leap. It also gives us the space to notice how the mind immediately tries to entertain us or come up with scenarios of escape or revenge or do whatever else it does to provide security and comfort.
As we continue the practice, we will come to experience life’s impermanent and changing energy not just as threatening but also as refreshing, liberating, and inspiring. It’s the same energy—we just experience it in two different ways. Either we can relax into it, seeing it as the true nature of our mind, our conditional goodness, or we can react against it.”
Just as the newness of winter offers both quiet and freshness at the same time, so does santosa offer both tranquility and inspiration for paths not taken. When cultivated, santosa can actually help us stoke the flame of our spirits, especially while enjoying the calm and quiet of winter at the same time.
So as I relax into a santosa practice this winter, I am trying to remember that cultivating contentment will actually provide the exact opposite result of “doing nothing.” Instead of giving in to daily desire for change and by working with this groundlessness that Pema describes in a tranquil, focused way, perhaps I will become even more attuned to the energy that will help me take leaps, make unexpected changes, and help me find liberation from the new year’s mentality of dissatisfaction.
The following piece was written by Maggie Gavin. Maggie has been teaching yoga for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body for five years. She is currently pursuing her MSW at Fordham University, to learn how to support mental health through yoga. Catch her class at Steps on Broadway: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 AM and Fridays at 12 PM.
A few weeks ago, I spent some time playing blocks with my nephew. While I tirelessly tried to build interesting and sturdy structures, he tirelessly knocked them over. Every time, I felt a little let down that the structure wasn’t “finished” before he knocked it over. But for him, the fun didn’t come from building, but from flinging the blocks up in the air and across the carpet (thankfully, they were soft, meant for toddler fun). Finally, I convinced him to let me stack 26 blocks (just like Daddy and he did before). Finished, they were taller than him. When I gave him the “go” to knock them down, he just stood still for a moment, a look of pure joy spreading over his entire being.
My sister-in-law commented that seeking the finished product is an adult mindset. Often in yoga and meditation, we talk about the idea of impermanence. We have to re-teach our adult students and ourselves something a child understands instinctively. How many times have we almost gotten to a place that feels complete, only to have the pieces get tossed up into the air? How do we react when that happens?
Intellectually, we know things change constantly. As children, we create situations that require rebuilding. We learn the meaning of tossing the pieces into the air and enjoy seeing where they fall. As the stakes of our lives increase, it becomes harder to see the pieces of our hard work fall apart. Can we find a way to approach the changes in our lives with the same childlike joy and curiosity? Can we pick the blocks up and start again, experimenting with a new structure? As challenging as the moment of destruction might be, each time we rebuild, we learn something new about how to fit the pieces together.
Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara
"The world of dew --
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . ."
- Kobayashi Issa
Despite our intentions, it appears that as we grow more attached to technological communication modes, we might be disconnecting from the natural human contact experience. Despite this disconnection, there are still times that may remind you that we are actually sharing a rather collective experience here. We just have to pause and ask around.
Since Labor Day, my collection of “stumbling” stories during the current Fall frenzy have paralleled to similar stories shared with me by friends, students, and colleagues. It seems that we are all experiencing a general level of frustration with being unable to control our environments. Sometimes our environments deliver minor irritations and, at other times, great loss and suffering.
You can imagine my surprise when I opened the Sunday Review section of the New York Times yesterday morning to find Pico Iyer’s The Value of Suffering. Was my inner circle tuning into a vibe that involved a much wider audience? The author demonstrated the collective experience of suffering and then offered a set of inquiries for contextualizing it. Are we all capable of experiencing a greater awareness of the delicate yet crucial role of suffering in our lives?
For our Monday Mantra inspiration, I selected the poem above. Iyer references Japanese poet, Issa (his name means cup-of-tea), as a source and his sentiment has continued to resonate with me since the initial morning read. Issa’s words are memorable, simple, and speak to how we position ourselves when faced with suffering in our uncontrollable environments. It should be noted that Issa wrote these words as he endured a series of untimely deaths in his family.
The lesson Issa offers to us when faced with suffering is to recognize impermanence as a companion. Even the choice of dew, quickly dissolving, speaks to depending on another moment being ready to replace the last. We can count on it. And while “the world of dew” indicates a condition of circumstances that cannot be captured, held, or controlled, the poet says “and yet, and yet…” indicating that it is still worthwhile to go on. There is value to living and we should proceed even when it is difficult. Life has value in all moments, ones of triumph and ones of suffering.
As we approach a new season, the transition time can be tumultuous. As temperatures, light, and nature make adjustments, we too must participate in this transition. There may be more challenges in doing our personal “work” but on a larger scale, there may be a particular suffering or loss we are enduring. We may find a lower degree of support from our changing surroundings so the “stumblings” are more disruptive than usual. Certainly, our worldview and daily news present us with even grander themes of suffering that we can always connect to in all corners of the earth.
Our collective experience of witnessing suffering and calling upon impermanence as a companion can unite us in our human experience. Knowing we are not alone in this approach makes it easier to go forward no matter what we meet along the way.
“And yet, and yet…”