Content and Connected, Even Amidst Change


MAY 14, 2020

Sometimes amidst big changes, do you ever feel like you don’t belong, even in your own life?

What IS it that helps us feel actually…. connected? Content amidst the waning and waxing of all that is unfolding? 

In yoga, there’s a concept called santosha

Like all of the niyamas, santosha is an inner practice. Sometimes described as contentment, santosha is a state of deep acceptance, appreciation even, for what is. It’s not reliant on things going our way in the external. Like happiness, it’s an inside job. 

Santosha doesn’t imply we don’t stay tuned in to what’s going on around us. The tragedy of capitalism and related deep structures of injustice have been laid bare by this virus. Our work to bring balance to the external is ever more important now. Contentment is not complacency.

In fact, when we’re grounded in acceptance within, it gives a certain sense of clarity. We get quiet, observe, feel, understand, and then act.

BKS Iyengar wrote, “Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” Direct action in the world around us becomes possible, when we are rooted in santosha. And right now, with so much movement halted, we have a real opportunity to develop the consciousness that makes action possible.

However, our reality has been so altered because of Covid19. Our sense of planning, security, place, and the future so uncertain. How can we even begin to feel connected, to experience santosha?

In Pune, India there was a beautiful speech give at BKS Iyengar’s Centenary Celebration, where an Indian professor described a recent study looking at what happens in the brain when people experience a deep state of connection and peace. The study followed people of many different faiths and spiritual practices who regularly experienced some sort of deep blissful state. They found that when these practitioners where just about to experience a profound shift into peace, santosha, the part of the brain that perceives the external – the “other”- went dormant. 

This speaker (one of so many that day, I can’t track him down!) explained that the more we are entangled with the external world, the less connected we feel, and that the more connected we are within, the more we feel connected to others. Wow. I wish I could link to some cool published work on this, but instead let’s just go into this idea.

Perhaps we feel most connected and content when we are deeply awake inside, attuned to the silence within us beyond the noise of our hungry, clinging mind. Maybe this is one reason asana practice has been so nourishing for me during quarantine. It’s a chance to disentangle my awareness from the external, so that I can honestly be with what is. It lets me connect deeply inside, so that I can begin to process what happening in the external from a place of clarity. Even if the glimpses of this inner silence are fleeting, brief, they are incredibly nourishing.

Abhijata (BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter) said in her recent teachings:

“Take a dip in that silence. Sometimes the silence can be overwhelming. Let it permeate, let it just engulf you. Take a dip into that…”

So lovely. It’s been useful for me to remind myself santosha – like yoga – isn’t an end goal, but a practice. Something I can explore, cultivate. Experiment with. It’s been amazing to stumble upon moments of contentment, often just after practice, where some new space opens up and suddenly everything feels different. Spacious and full of possibility. Full of connectedness.

What a miracle to have yoga practice in our lives. It’s so cool that something that takes up so little external space has such massive internal richness. We can practice yoga where ever we are. We can explore asana, breath, and awareness whenever we decide to show up for it. We can practice in our body just as it is…. in our pajamas, using whatever we have around the house. And so long as we have the teachings and a willingness to explore we can experience profound shifts inside.

These glimpses give us faith, that shift is possible. So then we practice a bit more. And inner connection awakens. We glimpse belonging. We glimpse contentment.

Even amidst a pandemic.

And in those moments, it’s all we need.