Since being reintroduced to the eightfold path, I find that I have been practicing some of its elements without realizing it. This is the fourth of six columns devoted to exploring their value in today’s world.
Santosa (contentment) – It’s difficult for a person in the midst of stress and striving to be able to meditate or to have his or her mind become “one-pointed.” This means that we need some level of contentment in order to practice meditation.
B. K. S. Iyengar, one of the major teachers who brought yoga to the United States, says, “A contented man is…blessed because he has known truth and joy.” To “know truth and joy” we need to stop. We need to be still and present to what’s happening right now. We need to see that the sunset tonight has its own glory and the breeze right now carries its own unique perfume.
To develop a sense of contentment, try keeping a daily gratitude journal or rewriting your life story in terms of lessons learned, blessings received and successes earned. Read it every day instead of telling yourself and others the hard luck story of your life. Concentrating on the good in your your life can transform it and help cultivate contentment.
Tapas (to burn/commitment/consistency) – This niyama is not described consistently in the literature and is very difficult to get a handle on. Many descriptions make it sound like a kind of religious fervor, something familiar to Christianity and Islam, as well.
Yet, the translation “to burn” seems to indicate a burning away of whatever prevents us from expressing our truest selves or distracts us from a clear focus on our personal goals. It may seem paradoxical to set tapas beside santosa (contentment), but the burning away of irrelevancies in our lives can leave space for contentment to develop.
Tapas means dedication to what feeds our souls (yoga or music, nature or cooking) on par with work, paying taxes or getting the kids to soccer practice.
Svadhyaya (study) – This one has both inner and outer components. It means both self-study and self-education. In yoga tradition, it is taken to mean study of God and the study of God within the individual. Many assume this indicates a very narrow scope of study. That’s not necessarily true.
Since this body and this personality are connected with all things, it means learning about the universe around me, studying both philosophy and physics, as well as learning how to sail or play a sousaphone. It means learning about other people because we are all connected, and what I learn about them, I learn about myself, as well. All things reflect the nature of god or the divine. By studying all of this, my quality of life improves and my understanding of the divine increases.
And if science is your religion? Studies have shown that people who make a priority of continual learning have a better quality of life as they age.