Here are some thoughts about feeling fine with our here and now… which as it happens, is the yogic concept of santosha. What does this mean, and how can it be useful?
Santosha/samtosa/santosh/santosa is something of a pause… a way of taking in how we are, so we can then respond well to whatever’s happening at the time.
Sanskrit words don’t always seem to have obvious English equivalents, which can cause misunderstanding.
‘Santosha’ comes from san meaning completely or entirely, and tosha meaning acceptance or contentment. The concept is not however about resignation or passive fatalism. Santosha is a practical means for positive change.
Santosha concerns noticing the interplay between our present moments, thoughts and feelings: and how they then influence our subsequent responses and decisions.
It helps us see ourselves and our circumstances more clearly, free from misapprehension and self-deception. This allows us to make wiser choices about the direction we take – knowing how and where we are gives us a clear starting point.
The clarity which santosha brings comes from letting go of fears, which cloud our judgement.
Yoga considers that human nature is essentially happy, but irrational fears can sap this joy, commonly leading to suffering.
Fears can root us to the spot, making us hold on too tightly. They can make us defensive. They can make us want to flee. They can fuel an urge to try and control things. But the only thing I can really control is… me.
But when anxious, we’re hardly going to self-manage well!
Santosha helps ground us in the present moment, reducing anxiety about future situations – which may or may not materialise. We’re then more likely to make wiser decisions, with positive outcomes. Then, the future will seem brighter and we’re less likely to cause pain – to us or others.
Through santosha I feel at ease with myself, more fearless and clear-sighted, less wrapped up in my own needs – more likely to manage myself both unselfishly and well.
It feels like a relief to me, very much a physical sensation… a soft exhale through the mouth, a letting go of any struggles, as if making room to breathe more wisdom in…
The smell of gorse or juniper; the sound of boots crunching on sparkly snow; lying on the grass admiring passing clouds; the scent of lilac and the colour of the flowers; the roar of Tarn Beck on a hot day before plunging in; sitting in timeless meditation.
A sense of peace, and release… not having to bother trying to control the uncontrollable.
Life comes in waves of change. Highs and lows, joys and sorrows, all are part of living. Nothing ever stays the same.
Santosha helps us to embrace life, to handle change, reducing the desire to escape, or to keep things the same. Less wishing we were in a different time or place. Less yearning for sensory pleasures. Less thinking, ‘I’ll be happy when…’
As I get older I notice more how the Fridays seem to come round ever quicker.
Awareness of time passing, the faculty of memory, knowing that there is a future: all are part of being human. I think of santosha as a friend… who offers timely reminders if I’m missing too many precious present moments by dwelling in the past or wishing my life away.
If I know how to restore my equilibrium, I’m not so troubled when I notice my mind ‘doing its thing’: chattering away about what will happen tomorrow or what happened yesterday!
As santosha has come to feel more familiar, I’m able to cultivate it consciously when it doesn’t come unbidden.
And so, like many other yoga concepts, it’s a simple, useful, practical and powerful tool.
Why not take a few minutes now to sense it yourself…
Rest your hands
Let go of any tensions
Exhale softly and deeply through the mouth
Imagine yourself stepping back, to see the bigger picture, to notice your feelings about the here now.
Picture yourself feeling peaceful and fearless.
Breathe in endless possibilities and positive change.
Close your eyes and settle into the moment
On these pleasant spring mornings I often breakfast very early, on the swing bench at the back of the garden. Sometimes santosha creeps up on me, and I hear the birds sing to me: ‘Enjoy!’ ‘Enjoy!’ ‘Enjoy!’
So I do!