The niyamas are known as observances. They are the second limb of the eight limbs of astanga yoga which is also known as raja yoga "because of its magnificent and majestic way of practice"(i) according to Sri Swami Rama. Together the yamas (the five restraints) and the niyamas (the five observances) make up the Ten Commitments of Yoga.
Eight Limbs of Astanga Yoga/Raja Yoga:
- yamas - the five restraints
- niyamas - the five observances
- shaucha - purity
- santosha - contentment
- tapas - self-discipline
- svadhyaya - self-study
- ishvara pranidhana - self-surrender
- asanas - the postures
- pranayama - the breath and the control and expansion of energy
- pratyahara - the withdrawal of the senses
- dharana - concentration
- dhyana - meditation
- samadhi - self-realization
As I deepen my practice of yoga I naturally continue with the niyamas. When reviewing writings on the niyamas I came across a line written by Sri Swami Rama that struck to the heart of my daily life - "It gives freedom from anxiety and worries."(ii) Now that is indeed something I could do with more of - freedom from anxiety and worries. Rama was referring to the second niyama, santosha generally translated as contentment. Swami Shraddhananda goes further to say, "Contentment is a requirement for peace of mind."(iii) This is where I wanted to learn more. Even after several years successfully using cognitive therapy and my more newly acquired tools of acceptance, accountability and Karpman's Drama Triangle to counteract and even prevent anxiety and worry, I still find these twins popping up and triggering or adding fuel to drama in my life, which results in a general lack of peace of mind.
In one translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (Aphorisms), it is stated that, "Contentment means contented acceptance of one's lot in life, untroubled by envy and restlessness."(iv) It would seem that acceptance is the path to contentment. Personal Best Seminars also affirms acceptance as the key to growth and the way out of resistance. Resistance being the spin cycle wherein I automatically react to people or events in my life and in so doing give my power away. Their aphorism of Stop, Look, Choose purports "Stop" all automatic reactions by "looking" at a situation for what it is - an opportunity to learn, i.e. accept what "is", and "choose" consciously what actions I am going take based on the experiences I want in my life. So to step into my power I must choose to accept what "is" and "stop bastardizing my right-now experience by comparing it to something that was never a choice."(v)
I believe santosha - contentment is a choice. Shraddhananda expands by saying, "Contentment is a mental decision, a moral choice, a practiced observance, a step into the reality of the cosmos."(vi)
I choose to commit to actions that lead to contentment or I do not. Santosha - contentment is achieved by accepting that things are the way they are in this moment - by accepting what "is". Accepting what "is" does not mean resigning my self to being stuck in a situation that I do not like. In fact accepting what "is" empowers me to focus all my energy onto real actions that will support me to create the experience that I want to have. Accepting what "is" frees me from resistance and emotional turmoil because I am not putting energy into judging, labeling or blaming anyone or anything. So I may be content (free from anxiety and worries) and simultaneously putting all effort toward creating the experience I want to have. I may want experiences anywhere on the continuum from the very personal, like creating an experience of love and acceptance, to the global, like creating a world free from injustice and hate.
There is clear connection between my inner and outer worlds, between my thoughts, emotions and knowing, and my actions or behaviours. In fact I would say that my inner world creates my outer world. I would also say there is clear delineation between my inner and outer worlds. Rama refers to santosha - contentment as, "a state of mind that is not dependent on one's worldly status, material possessions, or the wealth he owns [and that] by cultivating santosha [contentment] one can remain in a state of tranquility and equilibrium in all circumstances." (vii) Further, Tolle in the Power of Now says, "Surrender [acceptance] is a purely inner phenomenon. It does not mean that on the outer level you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment called the Now."(viii)
On this point of taking action to achieve one's goals, Rama says, "A person should not be satisfied as far as his efforts for attaining his goal are concerned, but he should always remain content. If one has made full sincere efforts in attaining his goal and he does not receive the fruits or success according to his estimation, even then he should learn to be content.(ix) Discontent can arise when I am unsuccessful at reaching my goals even if I have set clear intention and worked diligently to achieve them. Discontent can easily arise anytime results do not meet my expectation. In such a case all my energy is on the result and the fact that it should be, in my mind, different than what it is. What would happen if I shifted my energy off the result and onto my expectations? It is my expectation, and Tolle would say my mind, that is projecting onto the result a judgment that the result is bad. The result is in fact neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It just is. If I move my energy from judging to simply accepting what "is" I in effect achieve santosha - contentment. From here I still may not like or want the result I have. From here I am free to look at what real choices are available to me and to make new choices to create different results.
I have found, as many of you have (whether you will admit it or not ;->), that my largest learning has come from my failures - when I have made full sincere efforts and I have not received the success I was expecting. I remember my first (yes first) attempt at calculus, a required class for my Bachelors of Commerce. I had lots of stories as to how and why I came to the decision to withdraw from the class and try it again the following semester - I was overwhelmed with the workload, the professors just did not understand that I had more on my plate than calculus, the professor was poor, the professor was tenured and "did not care about teaching" and the professor's accent was difficult to understand and my algebra was too old because I was attending university sometime after high school, and my fulltime job was too stressful and demanding too much overtime and ....... Well you get my point. I was in a victim place.
I went from resistance to looking at what I thought were my only choices (remain in the class or withdraw) and back to resistance. "I had no choice, I had to withdraw from calculus." (Notice my limiting language.) I missed that whole piece of acceptance, that whole piece of accountability, that whole piece of contentment that whole piece of santosha. I remained in this victim place for years.
I have since come to learn and accept several things. I identified several limiting beliefs, chief among them being "life is hard", which was derived from the beliefs, "I can work my way out of anything" and "work is my only option." I further identified my payoffs. I received recognition for being a hard worker to the point of martyrdom. In believing "I can work my way out of anything" I had an excuse to not risk trying anything else. I was able to deceive others by maintaining an image of self-confidence and having it all together. And finally, I was able to avoid generating any creative options to ease my load and therefore maintained my belief that "life is hard." From here I actually owned my choices that lead me to that calculus crisis. I chose to not attend university right after high school. I choose the perceived freedom of earning money instead of getting an education. I choose to go to university ten years later. I choose to do a B.Com (not because it was my passion, but because it was "practical" and my belief system said, and still sometimes does, "practical is good and passion is bad" because "passion sounds like fun and fun is bad", because "life is hard not fun"......) And I wonder why I have lived much of my life exhausted. ;-> After getting honest with my self and telling my accountable story I have come to see the gift in this apparent failure crisis. That gift of knowing is this; "Life does not have to be hard unless I choose it to be so. I am infinitely capable of identifying and choosing among many, many real options."
Acceptance like santosha - contentment is not about being content or ambivalent necessarily with the situations we find ourselves in. Acceptance is about maintaining a personal experience of contentment regardless of external events or situations. Acceptance is more than choosing to be happy Acceptance is more than choosing my reactions to a situation while I maintain blame or anger or any kind of violent thought toward the situation or a person, myself included. Acceptance is actually removing blame, removing violence and accepting what "is" as neutral, neither good nor bad, which does create an experience of contentment, an experience of peacefulness. Acceptance without blame is not only the key to santosha - contentment it is also the key to accountability as described by Personal Best Seminars. "Accountability is a framing device that provides the power of choice, participation and co-creation of the experiences and results in our lives. Real or imagined."(x) Accountability, I think, like the niyamas, "...help one to develop self-awareness and self-control."(xi) Isn't that just the definition o emotional maturity? It is not surprising then that Shraddhananda states that, "One of the benefits of contentment is emotional maturity. Dramatic mood swings diminish, and personal crises are no longer the end of the world. Global events do not push us into isolated selfishness, but rather into community."(xii)
There seems to be diametrically opposed approaches to life:
|santosha-contentment||or||anxiety and worry|
|intent to learn||or||intent to protect|
|generating energy||or||draining energy|
One approach in a pair is not bad or wrong while the other approach is good or right. Each approach just is. Each approach is a choice. Each approach is requires a commitment.
My experience comes from within me. It is internal. It is my choice. It is the result of my reaction or action to neutral events outside of me. It is also the result of my reaction to my own reactions, which is just gerbil wheel of continuous pain waiting to happen. I actually co-create with everyone I interact with all the experiences in my life. I do so through every choice I make whether those choices are conscious or not. I am in effect the source and cause of all my experiences. Therefore I choose to step into the driver's seat of my life. I choose daily to step into my power by choosing to raise my consciousness and make choices and take actions to create the experiences I want in life. I want santosha - contentment, "freedom from anxiety and fear." The key is acceptance. As Anne Wilson Schaef so eloquently states, "Acceptance is serenity embracing life."(xiii) Finally, I echo Swami Shraddhananda's hope, "May all hearts be at ease. May our contentment promote the energies to alleviate suffering and turn ignorance into knowledge. May the cultivation of santosha guide us to courageous action, deeper community and greater love of all sentient beings."(xiv)
- Namiste -