This week at the prison I talked about Niyama – the other half of the “yogic ten commandments.” In particular I focused on Santosha – contentment. Santosha is maintaining a state of mental ease. This state involves accepting what you are and what you have – accepting things exactly the way they are now. Zen Teacher Cheri Huber is fond of pointing out that “Worry is not preparation.” The obstacles to contentment in the yogic tradition are the Kleshas and the Vrttis. In fact, the description of the state of Yoga is the cessation of the tugging of the Vrttis on the mind. The Vrttis are 50 in number and include things like shame, cruelty, jealousy, hatred or revulsion and fear. They also include love and hope which can be attachments. They slip in without thinking and tug at our minds and then we are functioning in a reactive mode. Once when the Buddha was asked “What are you?”, he replied, “I teach suffering and ending suffering.” The state of being without suffering (or dissatisfaction) in his terms is the same as Santosha. When I am discussing this at the prison, I am aware that I could come off sounding like I am telling a bunch of people who have much less than I do to be satisfied with what they have. It may seem that the only way to give this message to people would be to talk up from a more miserable state than your audience. The thing is, this state of “discontentment” is universal. In suggesting that this contentment of Santosha is a possibility, I are not suggesting that you must continue to live without things or that you cannot move toward goals. What the yogic tradition tells us is that you can move forward in the world from a state of complete contentment and equipoise. In addition, the idea of telling someone “You should be different” is not my style and not my job. If you internalize the idea that “I should be different”, you have simply added one more item of discontent. Work with yoga students whether inside the prison or out is intended to give practices to help people experience Santosha and to cultivate it. The number one practice for developing contentment is meditation.
Basic Method for meditation on the breath:
Find a quiet place to sit. Sit comfortably and relaxed with your feet flat on the floor. Alternative: sit on a cushion raising your bottom a few inches above the carpet or other soft surface and fold your legs in lotus, half lotus, or Burmese position.
- Whether you sit in a chair or on the cushion, straighten your back. Imagine that a string is pulling the crown of your head straight up.
- Point your gaze down at a 45 degree angle.
- Let the eyelids hang partially open. The eyes should be seeing but not looking. This is Zen practice style. Yogic meditators often sit with eyes closed. Do what feels right for you.
- Open your right hand and place it, palm up just below your navel. Rest your left hand, palm up in your right palm. Touch your thumbs together lightly.
- Now that you’re in a meditative posture, focus on your breath. Feel it drawing in and out. Focus either on the point just at the nostrils where the air goes in and out or on your diaphragm which moves up and down with the inflow and outflow of breath. The idea here is not to breathe in a certain way or exaggerate the breath. You just follow your natural breathing.
- Draw a breath in. Exhale. Count one and wait in anticipation of the next in breath. Draw a breath in. Exhale. Count two and so on up to ten.
- As you do this you will find that thoughts happen. You will find that all of a sudden, you have lost count. At this point, mentally acknowledge that you are thinking. Gently acknowledge this and direct the mind back to the breath and start counting at one again. It often helps to consider the train of thought as you would a pretty stone that you picked up while walking in a stream. Look it over and acknowledge it. Then gently place it back in the stream and go back to the breath and counting.
- If you do get to ten, start over at one again. Do this over and over. You are practicing letting go of the thinking process when it starts up.
- Set a time period for your meditation. Start with five minutes. When you reach the allotted time, gently open your eyes and stretch and come back to the room.
- Do this meditation twice daily. Over time you can increase to twenty minutes.
Well what is the point here? Here we are considering and letting go of thought, over and over. We are practicing letting go of thought. The idea is that in between the thoughts, we are totally present. In the moment. On the expressway to right now. This is practice of being fully present in the now. These brief periods of being present are the state of contentment named Santosha. Over time more and more of this state will manifest itself in your times away from the meditation cushion wherever you are – even in prison.