Santosha – Contentment vs. Complacency
“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
~ Lao Tzu
Santosha in ancient Sanskrit means contentment, and it is the second limb of the niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The invaluable lesson of santosha teaches us to celebrate and make peace with what we already have. How many times do we wish to stop the hastiness we encounter in our lives? How many times do we wish we could exist in a state of peace? This elusive zen state is something that we all strive for as urban dwellers. However, there is a deep rooted fear that santosha equates to laziness and conflicts with the values of drive and ambition our parents and modern society have instilled in us. We were taught at a young age to compare our experiences with others through countless school exams, sporting competitions, etc. These seemingly harmless events from childhood propagated the subconscious cycle of self-criticizing everything we are lacking in life. If we don’t change our perception, this bottomless pit of need grows, and it becomes increasingly difficult to satiate this disillusioned appetite for ‘success.’
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines contentment as the “freedom from worry or restlessness: a peaceful satisfaction,” while complacency connotes a sense of ignorance. Complacency is defined as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. When it comes to safety, complacency can be dangerous. Complacency is an instance of unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.”
Contentment is often used synonymously with Complacency which is not accurate. While contentment is a state of total awareness and deep interest in life, complacency comes from ignorance and apathy. To achieve a state of contentment, we do not need to give up on creating goals, we need only to give up our attachments to their end results. To exist in a state of complacency, we become emotionally indifferent to the process of trying and succeeding, or trying then failing – and so we don’t bother to try at all, and therefore exist is an ignorant bubble of self-satisfaction.
The author of The Enneagram, Helen Palmer, describes contentment as balance: “being able to stabilize attention in the present and feeling the satisfaction of having enough.” And santosha really is about recognizing when enough is enough. Setting our boundaries and entraining in our hearts and minds to know when we are feeling satisfied. Then we linger in that feeling of fullness without greedily wanting more or self-chastising ourselves for having too much.
Most of us avoid Santosha by rushing to fill our schedules full of activities during our weekends or long holiday breaks. Or perhaps after longing to be in a relationship and finally getting it; we then, in contrast, yearn for the freedom of being single once more. This vicious cycle or idealizing past nostalgia and future projections, keeps us from enjoying the present moment.
The mindful movement practice of yoga, pilates or gyrotonic helps us to cultivate a sense of awareness of what is going on in the NOW. When we feel the various sensations in our physical body that can be described through a plethora of adjectives like tight, painful, sour, weak, tingly, sore, sad, etc; we are in fact, connecting to our emotional body of feelings through physical sensations that are stored on the 3D level. As we advance in our movement practice and the awareness of our alignment improves, so do we improve our ability to be mentally and emotionally aware of how we deal with our feelings of inadequacy. This works the other way around of course. The yoga practice does not only improve you physically, but increases your mental and emotional agility. So the next time you find yourself struggling in class, let go of the attachments to what you think you should be doing and celebrate your strengths. Honor how far you have come, and through this practice of contentment, you will enjoy everything so much more.