As I sit here and think about this blog post, I can hear in the back of my head, "I will finally be happy when this post is written." Here I am placing conditions on my happiness and I know that I am not just doing it here, but I am guilty of it in many other area of my life.
Thinking about this thought, I ask myself, “am I really going to be happy and content long term when this blog post is written? Or will I be seeking the next goal to place my conditions of contentment on?”
Conditions on contentment was never something that I ever gave much thought to, I just assumed that they came with the process of being content, however, fleeting it may have been. However, true contentment does not lie in reaching the destination, but rather in enjoying the process. Something that I would come to learn through my personal yoga practice and the trials and errors of seeking lasting contentment.
How many times have you said to yourself or others, "If only I had the perfect job, then I will finally be happy." Or "Once the weekend comes I can finally enjoy myself and relax." Or " Once I can get my weight down those last 10 lbs I will finally be able to love the way I look."
I know that I have said those things plenty of times. However, each time I reached one of those destinations, I was rarely happy long enough to actually enjoy it before I was placing the next condition for my happiness.
Why do we do this? Why do place these burdens on ourselves just so that we can achieve a perceived contentment or happiness?
I am sure that there are hundreds of reasons why. It was what we saw growing up. It is the way of society. It's the commercials and advertisements we see in our face telling us to believe that happiness and contentment is just around the corner if only we do, buy, or be a certain thing. For each of us it is going to be a little different, but the results are still the same, we are happy or content for the short term, but we are always left searching for that next thing to get or achieve in order to attain that happiness or contentment again.
Contentment, however is not something that comes and goes, it is constant and eternal. It is always with us because it is within us, we just have to make that realization.
I clearly remember one the very first big conditions I placed upon myself. I was 12 turning 13 and I was blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. It was my wish. If only I could be normal again, then I will be happy. Just a few months earlier while I was enjoying being a kid and experiencing contentment of just growing up and having fun, a single moment changed my life. It only took a blink of an eye. One solitary event, and my whole life and mindset shifted. I blew out the candles and waited. And waited some more.
I waited for 8 years. I missed out on so much waiting for my wish to come true. There would be pockets of moments where I could push my fears aside and make the best of it. There were moments where I would smile and seem happy. But it was fleeting and never real.
Then one day, I stumbled upon a a yoga practice that would open my eyes to a whole new reality. A practice that would come to shape and create the normalicy that I craved and had wished for. Just as I did not give much thought to that fleeting moment back in my teens when my life and mindset shifted, I did not give much thought to the benefits of this practice. I did it to get my exercise in, but what I got out of it was so much more. It was a glimpse at contentment.
For the first time in a very long time, I experienced what it was to be awake again, to be aware of what was not serving me. It was the practice of yoga that gave me a taste of the "normalcy" that I had spent almost a decade seeking and learning and that in that moment, I found that it was within me all along.
What is contentment and how can we start to cultivate this as a regular part of our life?
Contentment or in yoga, also known as Santosha, is a practice of appreciating what you have, where you are and those you love without placing conditions on it. When you are content, you are not comparing yourself to others in a way that puts you or what you have down. It is a feeling of ease within ones self regardless of our current situation. We know that we are enough as we are and that we give thanks for each moment we are given.
Here are 5 ways that you can start to cultivate contentment in your life right now!
1. When you set priorities do so without conditions or pressure. “The I will be finally content when or if….
When we set priorities we are able to handle the task at hand with our full attention. When priorities are set without conditions there is no worry about the outcome or racing to the destination. We are able to enjoy the process. It gives us an opportunity to be present, proactive and less reactive. When we are less reactive we are less likely to place stressful conditions on ourselves. When we are fully present we are not thinking about the past or future, we are in the moment. Have you ever just set your mind to something because you wanted to no strings attached, just because?
After experiencing my first yoga class and the feeling of ease that came with it, for me, I decided that first things first - every morning I would do yoga. I could release the energy and focus my attention inward. What this gave me was silence and an awareness to the moment. I was able to start to see the bigger picture and make choices from a place of calm. It gave me an opportunity to ask myself, is fear and worry going to take away from my experience or will it fulfill me? It was from this place that I was able to choose joy and ease and navigate life with an open mind. I was awoken to a glimmer that contentment was not just externally driven.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others and their circumstances.
Comparison has a sneaky way of creating discontent. I say sneaky because not all comparison is negative. Sometimes comparison can be good. It can foster a sense of sameness and present an opportunity to meet people or engage in a situation that we feel connected to because we are similar to them or their causes. However, comparison can lead down a rabbit hole of devaluing our own worth, making us feel inferior.
In my instance I looked around me and I saw all these people laughing and smiling and doing things they enjoy. What I failed to see was that everyone has their own personal hell that they are going through, but how they chose to show up and be was just different than me. I allowed my fear to sit on my sleeve. I allowed my fear to stop me from interacting and taking leaps of faith that my peers did with what seemed like ease to them. I found myself saying things like if only I could be like him or her, then I would be happy. This just sent me spiraling and left me feeling worse than if I had ever even made the comparison in the first place.
By setting the priority of taking time each day to wake up and become aware of these thoughts, I was able to see that the comparisons that I was making was like comparing an apple to an orange and it was not serving my greatest good. I was able to see that if I wanted to be content, then happiness had to come from within me because everyone's ideal of contentment is going to be slightly different than my own.
But how do you do that?
3 . Change your inner voice, your personal message.
I just recently heard a quote by Jessie Itzler. If you don't know who he is, he is an entrepreneur.The co-founder of Marquis Jet, a partner in Zico Coconut Water, the founder of The 100 Mile Group and an owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. He gave a talk that I had the privilege of hearing and he dropped some amazing knowledge, but the one thing that really stuck out in my mind was this, "Pay attention to the words that you speak. The words we speak are powerful." Simple yes, easy to do daily, not so much. Especially if it is something that we are not aware of.
Think about the last thing you uttered in your mind? Was it positive? Did it carry conditions? Did it leave you feeling empowered? Then think about how many times you have said that to yourself throughout the day, once, twice, one hundred times? How much do you believe it? A little? Or A lot? Has it influenced your choices, the judgments you've passed, the way you feel?
More than likely the answer to this is yes. I too, have been down this road. Things like, “You are so dumb to believe this.” “You are not any good at that anyway.” “You are so ugly,” that play so often in our minds that it is no longer conscious.
Yet these thoughts that play on repeat in our subconscious without us even truly being aware that we are even doing it. By practicing yoga, I was given an opportunity to be quiet and confront the negative thoughts that infested my mind on a daily basis. I had a choice, I could continue to go down this road and avoid the feelings or I could feel the feelings and allow them to be brought out of the dark so that I could question them. I became aware because I had the opportunity to weed through the noise and hear what I was saying.
How can you do this? Take time to become quiet, maybe after a yoga practice, rather than rushing through Savasana (final resting pose) you take the time to get quiet and listen, wake up to the mental tape playing in your mind. Like me you might be surprised at how you are comparing yourself negatively to those around you and even those closest to you. Once you have caught yourself in this cycle, its time to stop it. You can do that by questioning it, rephrasing it, and practicing it. It sounds cheesy I know, but it works.
Try it sometime. Think about the last thing that you said to yourself, question its reality and ask how you would feel if you did not feel this way. Take the time to rephrase your old thought to something that is more positive. Say it to yourself til you believe it, share it with someone you care about so that they can help you reinforce this new way of thinking.
Other ways that you can shift your inner voice is to:
Focus on having an attitude of learning no matter the outcome or situation. What can you gain from what did not go the way you had planned.
Reward your actions not you and your traits. It is easy to reward what goes well, or how well we did something. It is not as easy to find the positive in an effort that did not go the way that we wanted. It is easier to put the blame on ourselves. It's easier to think we are not smart enough, that we are not good enough, that we must be out of our league. What if instead, we praised ourselves for taking a leap of faith, for trying something new and for learning something we did not know before we had started?
Value your efforts. Congratulate yourself for trusting yourself to go for your goal. Honor yourself for pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Recognize and praise the strength and courage it took to go after something that you wanted.
Forgive yourself. Like saying the saying "Pay attention to the words you speak, the words we speak are powerful." It seems like a no brainer, but often we are more likely to forgive and move on for someone else but not ourselves. Take the time to remember that you too are human and you too deserve to be forgiven for your mistakes, and perceived failings.
4. Start to cultivate gratitude to help you move towards Santosha, contentment.
Gratitude is the ability and quality of being thankful for what you have and a readiness to show appreciation for those things and people around you.
I had another opportunity to hear another great speaker and author of the book Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic. He was born without arms or legs. He was truly inspiring to listen to not only to learn about his journey, but the words of wisdom that he spoke in regards to the power of gratitude.
He said his biggest lesson was learning an attitude of gratitude and “that, it’s the disability of the mind and heart that is more debilitating than the physical ones.” That he was not going to focus on what is happening to him but rather to be thankful for what he has, and who he IS.
I found this absolutely profound because, how often do we take for granted all that we have both tangible and intangible? How often do we say thank you for giving us an opportunity to grow through a challenging situation?
I know that through some of my most difficult times, that instead of being grateful for the support that people showed me, I dwelt on the misery that I was feeling. Instead of seeing the light in given situation, I automatically felt that life was happening to me rather than for me. I did not see the bigger picture. I had yet to recognize the power of gratitude. Once I found it, it opened my eyes to seeing my challenges from a different perspective. I was able to appreciate and acknowledge not only that I could be better, but that I was not alone in my journey.
Why should you work on cultivating an attitude of gratitude to feel content? When we are grateful for what we have and for the people in our lives it shifts the chemicals in our brain to help us see the positive especially in stressful or challenging situations. It helps us to connect to something bigger than ourselves which enhances our feelings of connection and quality of life.
How can we cultivate this gratitude:
Take a moment to think of all the things that you have in this moment.
Find gratitude in something that challenges you.
Spend time with loved ones.
Share with others how grateful you are to have them in your life.
5. Live simply to find contentment.
With all the things and the thoughts and the experiences that inundate us this is another one that is easier said than done. Think about a moment in time where you are not being consumed by social media, friends and family opinions, television, advertisements, news, etc. It’s not easy to escape the noise. However, it is essential in gaining the freedom from the binds of grievance, complexity and emotional turmoil.
Confusious says: "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."
Living simply is not just giving up the physical things although that does help, but it is also about the mental clutter that takes up precious space in your mind. Yoga gives you an opportunity to sift through the though weeds in your mind to get to a clear plot where you can plant fresh seeds and make room for the flowers to bloom. When your mind is filled with weeds the beauty the truth gets hidden.
There was a time when my mind fed off of complexity. It was easier to let my mind hoard information. I was always looking for “the answer” to get my life back to feeling “normal” I would fill my days with activities and get lost in the shuffle of doing. I would do anything other than to sit with my fear and face it. I preferred to get caught up in the complexity of my fear and life which stole more from me then taking time out to just be quiet and still. I truly believe I did this because I feared that what was on the other side was even more ugly than what I was currently facing. I also believe that we do this because fear that we are going to miss out, good old, FOMO (fear of missing out). What if we did miss out though, what if we saw it as an opportunity of what we could gain rather than what we could lose?
Issac Newton said, "Truth is ever to be found in simplicity and not in multiplicity and confusion of things."
When I practiced yoga there was nothing complex about it. I moved, I would breath and I would be quiet. I was able to weed the garden of my mind. I became aware of the extravagance of thought things I lacked presence. I allowed the weeds to dominate and steal space from my truth.
I remember so clearly staring at my ceiling in Savasana and there was nothing. Not a thought passed through my mind. I remember walking to class my body felt light. I felt like I had discarded a hundred pounds of trash from my shoulders. I felt amazing. I was grounded. I noticed the little things, the things that over time, I had walked by a million times, but never noticed.
So how can you cultivate simplicity to find contentment?
Take out more than you accumulate. Think about everything you do in a day, do you truly need to do it all? Is there something that you can let go of?
Choose to be present, notice the little things, enjoy your life right now rather than when you hit a destination.
Ask yourself, do I really need this.
Go slowly and with full attention. Stop multi-tasking when you multi task you accumulate a lot of stuff both physical and emotional and you get nothing done, This further complicates things rather than simplifying things. Decide what is important. Does what you do, have or think bring you joy? does it allow you to enjoy your life to the fullest? Examine your commitments.
Simplifying my life and getting rid of the emotional and physical baggage that held me down, allowed me to gain a new perspective. The space that was in my mind was then able to be filled with truth. It was able to fully comprehend how my fear was stealing my contentment, my happiness and my joy.
In conclusion: As I sit here and finish this last paragraph of this post, I feel content. Not because I finished it and I reached my goal. But rather, I feel content because I have gotten my words on to the page. Because I trusted myself to just write and allow the words to be written.
I feel content because I am grateful for the time I gave myself to do this work and I am continuing to practice the mindfulness not only of my yoga practice but my every day life. It is in this daily practice that I can bask in Santosha, contentment. I have finally been able to touch true happiness, not at the price of missing out on anything, or out of fear. I did this by setting my priorities, and I stopped comparing myself. I shifted my inner voice, I cultivate gratitude and I chose to live simply. By doing these 5 things I have found contentment, and in essence I finally got my birthday wish.
By Julie Shapiro
Julie is a certified 200-hour yoga teacher, certified personal trainer and mother of two. Julie believes that yoga found her and was presented to her at a time when she needed it the most.
In fact, it was after her first yoga class that she finally experienced a quiet mind - no more mind chatter! Julie has been in the health and wellness space for 15+ years she currently teaches yoga in the online space.
You can find Julie on Facebook www.facebook.com/enhanceamplifyelevate1 & Instagram.com/jsyogafit
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