Samtosha: Contentment

The last niyama Patanjali presents is “samtosha”, or contentment. Remember that the niyamas are practices; one is then to ACTIVELY practice contentment.  What exactly is contentment? Samtosha is an experience which has nothing to do with the external circumstances. Contentment requires the willingness to enjoy whatever has been given you today knowing that it will change. One wise teacher has said that the true spirit of renunciation is to be happy with whatever you have, whether that is a lot or a little. Contentment is like that; when we enjoy the life we have today, this very moment, we are practicing samtosha.

Patanjali is teaching us something very important here. By giving us the practice of samtosha, Patanjali requires that we clearly observe our values and choices in life. He demands that we see the hollowness of achievement and acquisition. This is not to say that material wealth and success are evil, it just is that they are not enough, and certainly not something on which to base our contentment.

     It is easy, of course, to enjoy the beautiful moments, the joyous experiences of life. But Patanjali is asking us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments. When we can embrace the difficult moments in a spirit of contentment then we are free from the slavery of life’s vicissitudes. When we can be content when all is difficult then we are free. And contrariwise, when change can no longer control our inner life, then we are content. When we can remain open in the midst of pain, then and only then do we understand what true openness is.

Patanjali’s teachings are not for the weak. He requires discipline and strength. He asks us to walk into the unknown. But he does not abandon us on this journey. Instead he offers the wise teachings of the niyamas to guide us back home to ourselves; it is this journey to nowhere that transforms us and all those with whom we come into contact. This is the final commitment and the very heart of the teachings of Yoga. Bon voyage!

Adapted from the writings of Judith Lasater.