Santosha and Tapas: niyama arm wrestling ;)

Picture of a corridor in Tibet
How do I make sense of these conflicting ideas?

Santosha is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. It roughly translates to contentment or satisfaction with the way things are. We can also look at it as not striving after worldly goods and instead focusing on what we already have. Tapas is the cultivation of strength of will and self-discipline to create change. By definition we could consider it to be opposed to santosha. On a simple level it is doing something that our minds are reluctant to do for the betterment of ourselves. When the will is diametrically opposed to something in our mind, the resulting fire will burn up our mental (and physical) impurities.  

I sometimes talk about these Niyamas during yoga classes, though probably not as much as their partner the Yamas. Those of you who know me will probably recognise that Tapas is not a problem for me. I have that one down. 🙂 This is a meandering post about my own experience with santosha, so I will be tagging this as a personal blog entry. For me it is something that I am constantly working with. I also find it quite difficult to get my head around, because it is difficult for my ego to accept.

As Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji said, ” When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas, the entire garland will follow.”

Santosha and apathy

I find santosha incredibly difficult. I am always striving, trying to get better and trying to improve. As I mentioned earlier, it’s sister niyamatapas is much more my type of thing. Try to get me to be satisfied with where I am now and I will arm wrestle you until I can start trying to improve again. It is absolutely exhausting. If I am going to physically survive long enough to learn from this life, I feel that I need to slow this striving for self improvement. Is this something that I have in common with some of you reading this?

Something to try

Maybe we can try to relax and let the processes happen slowly. Use tapas to get things rolling and then let go of the outcome. I have heard this idea from many experienced teachers, guru and babaji. It could be a great sankalpa for my practise before I set off each day. Perhaps “I am letting go of the outcome of this practise” could really be a great way to begin. I am going to try it. This will enable me to work on santosha without falling into apathetic lethargy.

In closing

This was the subject of a long and inconclusive conversation I had with my meditation babaji in India. I could never quite get the ideas he was laying down. In the end he seemed to imply that I should just find a way to try santosha and then see how it goes.

In my daily practise I work on allowing it to become so regular, and routine that it does not require will or self-discipline to get to work. This is then both santosha and also aparigraha non-grasping, non-greedy (one of the yamas). Then I can more easily let go of the outcome.

Suffice it to say, i am still working on this one and, as long as I live for long enough, probably will be for many years to come. I do have these two tools to try – structured practise and sankalpa. I will let you know how it goes 🙂

Info on the post: I started writing this is July of this year and it was just a sketch of some ideas. In the end it took a long time to formulate my thoughts.

Santosha - a very difficult niyama.