Santosha: A Shared Search for Contentment

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong…

Contentment doesn’t come easy. Or, at least not without practice.

As we collectively process the loss of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and countless others who threw it all away while seemingly having it all, I’m grateful for honest conversation with friends and clients around what it means to be happy. What is it we’re all aiming for if traveling the world, having more money then we can spend, and living a glamorous lifestyle is not enough?

In yoga, the word “santosha” is one of the Niyamas, the second of eight limbs of Yoga. Santosha means contentment. To me, contentment represents the ultimate end goal: Happiness.

My journey toward contentment

I’ve always known exactly what I wanted. The perfect internship, university, boyfriend and new city served as guideposts on my journey through life. My direction was solidified by my pursuit of the American Dream: success, money, power. And, I almost always got what I wanted. 

That is, until I didn’t. Until I finally “had it all” and realized I had nothing. In fact, I was far from it.

In Yoga, this is the moment of “removing the veil [of ignorance].” Like Pandora’s box, once you peak inside, there’s no going back. In this way, you may have heard people say – myself among them – that yoga “changed my life forever.” But how? And in what way?

When I moved from Boston to Los Angeles in 2013, I was an idealist 23-year-old, newly appointed as Chief of Staff to a Senior Vice President of a major insurance company. I was sure I could handle it. I was smart and confident with a New England work ethic. I settled into my Santa Monica apartment and made friends with ease. I was set. I was on my way.

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong.

When I found my dream job to be less-than-fulfilling, the same idealism that led me to leave a great job and friends in Boston once again took over. Gratefully, my parents were in full support. My Mom and I nodded in emotional and spiritual agreement: I had to follow my intuition. Where would I land if I let my heart lead the way? I wasn’t sure. But, feeling let down by my former pursuit for success, I knew this is where I was headed.

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong.

After six years of daily yoga practice, I was passionately attuned to the mental and physical benefits of yoga study and practice. I wanted to learn and embody more. This was my heart’s true desire. Peace. Self-love. Contentment.

Yoga changed my life by allowing me to be in control of the trajectory and well-being of my body and mind: mitigating anxiety, managing depression, eliminating food and diet obsession, ultimately caring for myself in body, mind and spirit.

Today, I spend my time creating, managing and instructing teacher trainings, yoga classes and community events to spread the word about yoga as a valuable practice both on and off the mat. This includes working with private clients to develop a daily practice to suit their individual needs, as well as working with Veterans, recovering addicts, social workers, nurses, and others.

At times I still struggle to stay above the current. Sometimes, life seems to win as I flounder with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, restlessness, anxiety, depression and stress. The difference now, is I have tools to re-engage and reset. Through Yoga, I’ve unlocked the code of how to stay above water.

Here’s what I learned:

Contentment is more complex than sitting on the couch on a Sunday, grateful for no place to be. (Although these moments are precious too!) Contentment means seeing the good in the bad. Seeing the truth in the chaos, and the light in the dark. Contentment is knowing impermanence as the only consistent theme of life and embracing each moment as if it were the only one. This is a practice. We are lucky in life if we experience moments of Santosha.

Nothing outside ourselves can give us contentment; not money, power or fame. Only we can find contentment through a commitment to being open, to seeing opportunity and to Loving ourselves and others unconditionally.

As we collectively process unfathomable loss and confusion, I feel inclined to share the wisdom I’ve gleaned from five years of yoga study. Here it is:

1) Go easy on yourself and on others. Rather than getting frustrated, take a breath and have a conversation. 90% of the time you’ll be surprised with the outcome, if you can keep your cool. Difference disappears when one person has the courage to find commonality. The rest of the time, you’ll rest easy knowing you tried your best by keeping an open mind and heart. This is truly peace of mind.

2) Love unconditionally. Not just your family and friends, but also yourself. Don’t only give love to those who are like minded but also to those who you struggle to understand. Imagine you met someone at your favorite store or place of work, your instinct might be to connect. That’s the basis of humanity, to save ourselves but also to keep one another alive. The world and all that’s difficult depends on our individual ability to be the bigger person. This means to Love freely. If that feels uncomfortable, sit with why that might be. We’ll all be better off if we can learn to Love indiscriminately. And yes, that means even yourself on your roughest day. Let that shit go.

Nothing outside ourselves can give us contentment; not money, power or fame. Only we can find contentment through a commitment to being open, to seeing opportunity and to Loving ourselves and others unconditionally.

Santosha may be closer than we think. A professor in Yoga once described the practice of Santosha as simply making the time to “sit outside and watch the wind blow through the trees.” Dismiss it as fluff and nonsense if you like, but when was the last time you did this? If you can’t remember, humor me and try. Then notice afterwards, how do you feel? (Curious about the physiological response of this practice and why it works? Message me or check out my short book on the Science and Practice of Mindfulness.)

The answers to life’s biggest problems are simple, if we take the time to listen. We are all connected. Solace comes from one another, from Nature, and from ourselves. If only we are quiet enough to hear. And, if we allow Love to win.

No matter your path, happiness is possible. Rich or poor. Homeless or privileged. Be with it. This moment is beautiful. Don’t miss it.

Seeing the opportunity in challenge, the light in the dark…This is the practice of contentment.

xx

In Yoga,

Amy

Married to Yoga.

Wow, what a wild ride.

There are moments I have an awareness of how much changed I’ve endured, how much I’ve shifted in the past 6 months…year……okay, 5 years.

In the past five years, I am plus one Master’s degree, plus one yoga studio and subsequently down one “wedding fund” (and boyfriend, for that matter). I made the decision to use my wedding fund to live my dream, henceforth I am: Married to Yoga.

From Boston to Los Angeles to SW Florida, from government affairs to yoga studies, from over-time perfectionist to master delegator, relationship lover to solo adventurer. I think mostly I’ve realized the importance of realizing that nothing is perfect. Nothing can be forced. Very little is actually known. I now fully know that what we allow ourselves to feel and think is how we see the world. That the world is not what we thought it was, or is. And that, in fact, the rest of the world is just like us. We are one.

It’s difficult to settle into my new home and as a studio owner in North Port, FL, as daily glimpses of my past lives (past jobs, places, people) remind me of how much there still is to learn, to know and explore. So many things that I thought were, are not. And as many things I thought would never, are fully – resonant. You never know how your reality will unfold when you stop trying to control its direction. But, you can know that no matter where it takes you, when you release control, it will be the most right thing that you have ever done.

There’s definitely a reality that we aren’t aware of, that can begin to answer all the questions we have about life, what happens next, and why bad things happen to good people. This has been my journey, to explore to “why” of life. There is a rhythm, though perhaps not a reason, to the fragility of life that doesn’t accurately represent reality: that all is one, everything is universal and all that are born must perish, and will be born again. There are cycles and formulas to life that we can only gather by tuning in to our own patterns.

I’ve been put in a vulnerable position lately to share my story, when in reality, I’m still awaiting the happy ending – or any resolution at all. I don’t feel I have the clarity to retell a narrative I can barely understand for myself. The story of my own life’s progression. So, recently, I started writing, not just about how I feel but why I feel. What I feel. What are the patterns to my own natural rhythm? Rather than allow my emotions to rule me, or to feel bad that I feel bad, and certainly rather than allowing my worries to manifest into a million different reasons or worries “why”; I’m going back to basics. At the first impulse of emotion or reaction, I want to know what that worry is about. That’s all. I’ll write it down and then I’ll let it go. Not to be obsessively dissected or philosophized. Just to be simply acknowledged and maybe even understood. (Or maybe, not yet.)  I’m going to try this method of observation and note taking in hopes of uncovering “why” I am. “How” I work, and how I can do better for myself and others.

After five years, I’m getting to know myself again. Having peeled back the layers of my identity over years of self-study, of yoga. It’s scary but so necessary to know who’s there at my very core. The me I’m finding is so real, and more importantly, is someone I can proudly be with for the rest of my life…As long as I (the seen and the Seer) shall live. So my journey seems to be opening to an entirely new chapter, where I can’t deny what is and am forced to flourish therein, the present moment. Married to yoga.

Sending love and good vibes always in the hope of inspiring or at least walking with you on your own journey of unfolding; however that might be.

Om Shanti, xo

Amy

 

New Years Revelation

It’s New Years resolution time. A time I remember greeting with promise, hope and great expectations, this year, seems a bit more daunting. It might be that I’m growing older – which was no more apparent than while suffering the day-long consequences of enjoying one drink too many at a holiday party last week (my 21-year-old liver is no more…) Or, it might be circumstantial – following my first semester in grad school, I already find myself searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. (While I won’t say it’s all darkness ahead, I will say I can’t yet see the light…)

Of course, it could also be that my year as a yogi has changed my perspective.

In the midst of the holiday season and a particularly stressful time in my life, I’ve been seriously craving some clarity and some reprieve, which has led me to consider how my mindset is impacted by dwelling on the choices I’ve made in the past and on my anxiety for the future. As you’ve likely heard before, the practice of yoga is about bringing your awareness into the present. I recently read in James Fowler’s “The Present Moment” that the practice of meditation can even be simply defined as an act of “love for the present moment,” (as well as for the love of Truth, of Beauty and of Goodness – such a beautiful sentiment, I’ve recently incorporated into my practice/daily intention setting). And Yoga Journal recently shared that the key to happiness is to stop planning for our ideal future, and to shift our focus on living today, in this moment.

As these seeds were planted in the back of my mind, the time was right – and ripe – for a revelation. And sure enough, as often happens during my daily practice [of asana and meditation], a single thought swept through me and helped assuage my fears and anxieties for the coming year. Just like that…Not a resolution, but a New Years Revelation:

You have everything you need.

Soaking in the peace of mind that comes along with this resonance, I realized I need a re-prioritization this coming year – Not a ‘quick fix’ solution, or yet another brilliant addition to my busy schedule, as I often associate with a resolution. I already have it all, but my current mindset consumed by back-peddling and negativity isn’t serving me, or allowing for all the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of the present moment to shine through, to really enjoy it. Although I usually avoid getting too personal (because after-all, A Year in Yoga is all about you!), I hope that sharing more of my revelation with all of you might help plant the seed to inspire your own, for a happier, brighter, more content and gratitude-filled year ahead…So here it goes ❤

 My Priority List for 2015:

  1. Self-care. Much of my work in Yoga Studies thus far has centered around healing and trauma, and what I’ve come to learn is that everyone is healing from some sort of trauma (big or small) – and it’s not our job or our right to evaluate how deep, how harsh, or how justified someone else’s trauma, or journey is. I can’t be any good at my job, in my relationships, or even in my yoga practice, without taking care of myself first. (A lesson I can attest, I’ve learned the hard way.) For me, this means allowing myself time and space. Time to breath in between an all too hectic schedule, even if this means telling someone else you’re unavailable. (Sorry, I’ve got a date with myself tonight!) And space: a few moments of solitude, a clean environment, and at least an hour a day when I’m totally unplugged. Create your own rules, or don’t. Whatever it takes to give yourself the attention you need to heal from whatever hurt you’re holding onto; to rejuvenate, to flourish. You’re no good to anybody, until you’re good to yourself; and life is, along with many other [beautiful, wonderous] things, a process of healing.
  1. Love. I have to admit, this is a new list-topper for me. I’ve always loved the idea of love, but I’ve never wanted to make it a priority. It’s simply too scary. The moment you open yourself up to love, you create space for rejection and loneliness. It’s much easier to be alone. Much easier, but empty. And certainly no less lonely. This kind of love doesn’t have to be with a significant other, it can be for a family member, a best friend, even a furry companion – but it is that pitfall, head over heels, unconditional, crazy-expressive-passionate kind of love; that fills your heart until tears well up in joy, and makes you equally as vulnerable to hurt and despair at its loss. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced this kind of love, you’ll likely also agree that it’s simply this feeling that makes life worth living. It gets you out of bed in the morning, keeps you going when you’re running on fumes, and picks you up when you (inevitably) trip over your own feet and fall on your face. While yogis aim to embody detachment, this kind of love is the only exception. To love whole-heartedly and steadfastly, to love all living things this way is a yogi’s primary goal. Because only by loving this way can we achieve happiness, and can we find peace, in our lives and for others. I am so very blessed to have an abundance of love in my life. Really, what else is there to want? But putting our own ambition, or other priorities ahead of love means abusing it. It’s a two-way street. Let the love in your life come first and guide you, and you will have a life full of love – and therefore, at its very core, of happiness and peace.
  1. Stability. Of course, even with love and self-care, we all need stability in our lives to do anything more to function in society. (Consider: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) Having grown up blessed with a strong foundation of stability, I ventured out over the past several years for a taste of challenge, of hardship (though not explicitly so at the time). I had something to prove, to myself. If I wanted to serve populations who had less than me, then I felt I needed to know what that really meant – and even what that felt like. Studying abroad in a third world country, working full-time for minimum wage, and immersing myself in homeless, low-income and prison populations; these choices have undoubtedly shaped my life. I say so with full recognition of how privileged I am to have made these choices – sprinkled after and in between my private college education, graduate coursework, well-paid jobs and refused opportunities. But what I’ve learned, however difficult at times, has been invaluable. Stability to me, represents a strong support system and enough financial resources to provide a home, pay the bills, and put food on the table (which varies in feasibility based on location and skill-set). When one of these areas is lacking, our whole being is at risk. The love and self-care we’ve worked so hard to cultivate is threatened, and we’re unable to do much more than run in place, and just “get by.” Evaluate what makes you feel stable; what’s your springboard for growth? And be so grateful for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Cherish it. This is also living with present awareness for all that we already have, and a goal of mine for the coming year.
  1. Be. And the rest will come. I can spend today, tomorrow and next year conjuring up my next project, worrying about my final exam, mulling over my past mistakes, and yearning for the light at the end of the tunnel. But at what cost? Too often stress and anxiety overshadows our ability to experience, enjoy and live in the present. By living this way, we risk losing a sense of ourselves and of those we love. When we finally achieve whatever it is we’re after, or perhaps just get tired of the chase, who will be there with us? What kind of shape will we be in – our physical bodies and our mental well-being – when we get there? Will we really be able to enjoy it, or will we already have our eye on the next prize ahead – an even bigger house, a more expensive car, a promotion, another degree? What about right now? Wasn’t there a moment when we dreamed of being right here? Relish it. We’ve all worked hard and learned tough lessons, jumped over hurdles and slayed dragons to be here – and here we are. We’ve worked so hard to be right here. So, we better enjoy it – You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Instead of thinking about what you should add to your life in 2015, I encourage you to consider all you already have. And challenge yourself to have your own New Years Revelation. To re-prioritize what really matters to you, at this point in your life, and allow that to be your mantra and your intention for the coming year. And strive to just be with it.

Sending boundless love and well wishes for a safe and very merry new year to you and yours. Cheers to all that 2015 will bring!

The light in me honors the light in you.

Namaste,

Amy

Photo: Throwback to New Years 2012 with my BFF Ashley at Lansdowne Pub Fenway Park in Boston. Thank you, Ashley for being there through it ALL and for always letting your light shine – & for always encouraging and inspiring me to do the same ❤