Santosha and the inspiration of dissatisfaction
Habituation is the enemy of contentment. We become accustomed to our easy lives of comfort, which slowly dulls our survival senses so that we crave more and more intensity, but are not sure where to find it, leading to dissatisfaction so normalized that it’s difficult to point out, talk about: we can all easily imagine having more, doing more, getting more.
We accumulate. We drown.
We momentarily resurface: new years resolutions, spring cleanings, peaks and valleys in a cycle that goes on until we step into a steady state of contentment, santosha, the bare beauty of not needing more that what is necessary.
Santosha, the Sanksrit word that is foundational to the yoga philosophy of Patanjali, is taught before the postures, before the breath work, before even concentration and meditation. Literally translated, Santosha is to be very pleased, totally comfortable. It was taught before electricity, before wifi, before hot showers were invented. Imagine— how comfortable our lives have become, and that we are still dissatisfied, because that is human nature.
Every generation of humanity has worked to make our lives more comfortable. So why are we not content with all we have made?
Because dissatisfaction inspires.
There is beauty to dissatisfaction: the inspiration to go, to move, to create and to guide positive evolution for ourselves and the world we live in. We need to have the drive and the resources to act on our dreams, our visions of what could be. Our dreams, especially childhood dreams, give us the intangible, inside, rooting that keeps dreamers and seekers striving to a future only we can see.
We could also be rooted in the present, seeing what is here, the shared reality.
When presence is paired with gratitude for what is, then we are naturally in a state of santosha, content with what is. The difficulty is to keep the double vision of being clear in what is beautiful now, and what we can create of it. To not slip into complacency, or become desensitized to all that we have, and all that we are capable of: that is the skill of santosha, and the inspiration of dissatisfaction.
Habituation, comfort, is more normal now than ever, with the pandemic measures encouraging home-stay, food delivery, and the sweatsuit lifestyle. Being close to what you want and need is a luxury we overlook: it takes little effort to obtain what you need, anything you can think of is available. We have a lot of energy available, but that is not new.
At our evolutionary origin, we sought out bountiful environments. We evolved with families to guard against enemies, food to secure from scavengers, fires to put out and survival to ensure at all costs. We knew what to do with our energy.
A comfortable mind, today, is confused: it wants to solve problems, and so often acts as an arsonist, creating the fires to run after, a unique solution to our modern lives of over-abundance, every thing that humanity has worked towards for thousands of years: safety, security. Despite what the great philosopher Mick Jagger said, the reality is that we now live in a world where we can, actually, get what we want.
How do we direct the energy that we have now that our lives are so easy? The common, insane response to abundance is to become desensitized to what we have, craving more, accumulating excess.
To step away from the cycles of getting/wanting, a direction is needed.
The arrow needs to begin within, and point directly towards a goal, a dream. Then desire can be positively and productively channeled outwards.
Within, we need the anchor of clarity. Perceiving plentitude is an internal perspective: it is what we measure, and how. The attitude can be of curiosity: how did so much come? From where? When, and why do wee have so much? What do we do with this?
With an external, positive, purpose for our abundant resources and energy, our needs will be clear; they will no longer feel like cravings. We learn to trust our wants, no longer losing energy to self-doubt and self-correction.
To step away from self-importance, to be playful, to enjoy the plentitude: these are conditions that create santosha. They are the sane responses to natural abundance, and to the rewards of your work.