After a 16 hour train ride from Tiruvannamali, my last day in Southern India was spent at the beach town of Kovalam. Following an abnormally uneventful afternoon, I set out on a sunset beach stroll. Observations of the exotic Arabian sea and the soft, damp Asian sand underneath my feet, danced with my senses. Lively, laughing Indian couples played in the gentle waves as I joyfully acknowledged the beauty of human connection through the universality of loving body language. A wave of realization crashed over me in that moment; not one bit of personal lack existed here. I was a lone observer, present and grateful. I continued on my walk and laughed to myself as I thought about the stereotypical dating adds stating,“I enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset” and noticed how true that was for me. A local man approached and asked if I would like to take a boat ride. He was one of many local men attempting to sell boat trips to beachy tourists for some quick cash. At first, I simply shook my head, no. He persisted, asking (in the sweet Indian accent that I adore), “Why don't you want to take a boat ride, are you afraid of the water?”. Without thought, I responded, “I'm just happy!” and walked away with a smile. I didn't even answer his question! Without a filter, I simply expressed the truth of my internal experience. I was in santosha, or contentment. I didn't need anything to be different than what it was. There was no need for a partner, no need for a boat ride, no need for anything. I was just happy. Alone, but in unity. The moment was pure and complete.
One of my favorite books explains Santosha in the following way, “discontentment is the illusion that there can be something else in the moment. There isn't and there can't be. The moment is complete” (Book- “The Yamas & Niyamas Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice” by Deborah Adele).
I recognize the relative ease of finding contentment in this story. I was walking along the beach in an exotic country, it was pretty amazing! The scene was pleasant and there wasn't much of a reason to be discontent. But my mind could have easily jumped into the syndrome of “more, more, more.. how could this be even better?” but it didn't. The monkey mind was temporarily still and satisfied.
The on-going practice is to take santosha into the complex and ever-changing spectrum of human experiences. How can we find contentment in the midst of depression, anxiety, and overwhelm? In my experience, self – inquiry can be used as a tool to find that place of unbreakable inner peace. By asking ourselves, “who am I?” we can detach from the emotional state. Emotions are temporary, they move, they change, we are NOT them. At our core, we are the observer who stands strong in unity with everything, unidentified with the ups and downs of daily living. I see contentment as a practice of deep connection to the untouchable purity within us all. On a more practical level, contentment teaches me to be present to what IS happening and to curiously notice and (work towards) releasing resistance.