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Practicing Contentment in a World of Conflict

Given the need for action and participation these days, it may seem counter-intuitive to practice or pursue santosha, or contentment (the second of the niyamas, personal observances of yoga). Why would we practice being content when there's so much to be discontent about?

We can look to the purpose of yoga for guidance. The original purpose, per Susanna Barkataki's book Embrace Yoga's Roots, is to find liberation from the difficulty of being human, so that we can experience the unity with ourselves, with others and with the world.

"And we have no time to waste as what hangs in the balance is the preciousness of each moment and a future that is possible with embracing the depth of yoga's true path of unity and liberation."

When we use this as a frame, we can maybe see how practicing contentment could be helpful. We can be content with a simple meal. We can notice that although we may not like the temperature to be at 94 degrees, we can practice noticing that we may be content in general in a given moment. Thinking, yes, I wish it were 20 degrees cooler, but I am actually okay in this moment. I know that it will change, and I don't need to focus on the discomfort. I can zoom out and notice the relative okayness of this point in time.

Now, of course, sometimes things are not okay. Sometimes things are really, really bad in our exact situations, in the moment. I don't imagine that the folks in Odessa, Ukraine in the midst of missile strikes are practicing contentment. That said, I do find it helpful to think about how even in the midst of war, once the dust has settled, that finding moments of contentment will be crucial for healing and for finding personal peace going forward.

Feeling discontent is exhausting. It is an attitude that makes the nervous system want to fight. Sometimes we do need to fight. And, when it's not time to fight we can practice giving our systems, our hearts and our minds a rest. It is in this resting state that we can feel that unity with ourselves and with the world, which yoga was always meant to reveal.

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