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What Happens When We Practice Santosha? (the Sunday Post) February 9, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, February 7th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“It is well worth analyzing the circumstances of those occasions on which we have been truly happy. For as John Mansfield says, ‘The days that make us happy make us wise.’ When we review them, we shall almost certainly find that they had one characteristic in common. They were times when, for this or that reason, we had temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived – as we so seldom do – in the depths of the present moment, without regretting the past or worrying about the future. This is what Patanjali means by contentment.”



– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Over the last few years, and especially over the last twelve months, I think that we have all experienced the highs and lows of life. We have experienced some joys; and also a lot of things not going our way and people not acting in a way we believe is appropriate. And, we can point to all these things as the source of our frustration, anger, fear, and disappointment, as well as the source of our loss and grief and sorrow. Everyone I know has lost someone in the last year – and we have also lost a way of doing things and living life… we’ve even lost, in some ways, the way we grieve and deal with the loss of those we love. While we can, for sure, connect to certain things (specifically things not going our way and people not behaving “appropriately”) to our suffering, the Eastern philosophies clearly state that is not the external factors that cause our suffering: it is the internal factors; our attitudes and our attachments.

In both the Yoga and Buddhist philosophies, suffering is caused by attachment. Patanjali includes two kinds of attachment in his short list of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: attachment rooted in pleasure (which we just call attachment) and attachment that is rooted in pain (which we call aversion). We can think of these as things we like and things we don’t like – or even people we like and people we don’t like, or the behavior we like and the behavior we don’t like. But, whether the attachment is rooted in pleasure or pain does not matter. Because, according to Patanjali, both are tied to the other three forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns: ignorance to the true nature of things; a false sense of self; and fear of loss or death. Over the last few years, but this last year in particular, we have all been confronted by our ignorance – even when we didn’t realize it.

If you are anything like me, once you know a solution to a problem you want to start fixing the problem. But letting go of what we like and dislike – especially when those likes and dislikes define us – is easier said than done. There is a definite practice of non-attachment and also a practice of detaching, but both can feel a little like giving up pleasure. Who wants to do that? Neither do we necessarily see the benefit of giving up what we don’t like when, in our minds, we believe we are working to avoid the things that cause us pain by staying away from certain things and people. And, who wants to stop avoiding things and people we “can’t stand” or associate with suffering? That sounds like bringing in more pain and more suffering. Who’s going to volunteer for that?

But, what if part of the practice immediately changes the way you feel? What if there were one or two things that you could do in any given moment that would change your attitude and engagement in the moment? What if those one or two things are things you normally do when things are going your way (or even better than expected) – and what if you realized that doing those one or two things was not dependent on external factors?

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experienced it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”



– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood



“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..


It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”



– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

Studies show that gratitude, giving thanks (or even just thinking about things for which you could be grateful) changes the mind-body. Of course, with all that’s gone on this last year, it would be easy to forget to express gratitude. You may have even forgotten what it feels like to feel grateful. Consider, however, that being grateful is not about the external factor. It is all about your feelings toward a person, place, thing, and/or experience. Gratitude is all about appreciation. It is about acknowledging the benefit or merit of something or someone. Even if it is something small, I would encourage you to be very specific about that for which you are grateful. That’s one little thing you can do that can make a big difference.

A second thing you can do, to change your attitude and engagement in the moment, is to practice santoşā (“contentment”), which is the second niyamā (“internal observation”) in the Yoga Philosophy (or, today, you can think of it as the Number 7 in the philosophy’s list of ethics). In sūtra 2.42, Patanjali explains, “From contentment comes happiness without equal.” In his commentary, the 5th century sage Vyasa said, “‘All sensual pleasures in the world and the great happiness in heaven combined do not equal even one-sixteenth of the joy that arises from the elimination of craving.’” This, of course, sounds like something for which we would all sign up: unsurpassed happiness and joy.

Part of the problem, however, is that humans are sensual beings. The other part of the problem is that there’s a part of our minds that is prone to judging. So, while it is natural that our bodies and minds crave sensation, it is also natural that from a very early age, we learn to categorize the sensations as good or bad, pleasurable or not pleasurable: things we like and things we don’t like. Then we proceed to build a life full of what we like and empty (as much as possible) of what we don’t like.

But, that’s not how life works. Inevitably, things don’t go our way; people don’t behave the way we want or expect them to behave; we don’t get some of what we want; and we get some of what we don’t want. And, along the way, we experience suffering. We may even lose sight of what we need; because we are so caught up in what we want and don’t want.


“I miss your smile
Seems to me the peace I search to find
Ain’t going to be mine until you say you will
Don’t you keep me waiting for that day
I know, I know, I know you hear these words that I say”



– quoted from the song “Waiting for the Day” by George Michael



“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”



– quoted from the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones (which is sampled in George Michael’s “Waiting for the Day”)


All year, people around the world have struggled when faced with the conflict between socially distancing recommendations and their religious and/or family traditions and rituals. Some people took a good hard look at what mattered most to them – what was required or needed to fulfill a commandment or tradition – and decided they could observe virtually or socially distanced in a way that did not compromise their faith. Other people took a good hard look and decided there was no compromise that would satisfy the requirements of their faith or their family. Some people just decided they weren’t willing to compromise. Everybody suffered; but some folks suffered more than others.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that some folks in the first group were satisfied, content, when everything was said and done. They were happy, given the circumstances. Some of the people in the second group endured additional hardships, either because others didn’t agree with their position; people got sick (and died); and/or it still didn’t feel like normal. The same is also true, maybe even more so, for the people in the final group.

I’m not implying here that if you “follow all the rules” (some of which were not made by you) that no one in your circle with get sick, no one in your life will ever die, and you will never experience any hardship. That’s not even close to what I’m saying. Instead, what I am pointing out is that during a time of great hardship, our attitude and engagement of the moment can change our level of suffering during the hardship. Even more importantly, as studies have shown that we all have a baseline for happiness and that that baseline can change (either because of our practices or because of additional hardships), how we are enduring this present moment will play a part in how we experience the next moment… which, unfortunately, may include more things not going our way and more people not behaving the way we think is appropriate.

Here’s a little story, about a little thing that caused me a little frustration and grief. Remember, it’s a little thing, just a little thing, but it’s not the details that are important – it’s the moral.

“I’m shameless, I don’t have the power now
But I don’t want it anyhow
So I’ve got to let it go”



– quoted from the song “Shameless” by Billy Joel, covered by Garth Brooks

For months now, I’ve been thinking about February 7th and how, as a Garth Brooks fan, I like to celebrate the day, his birthday, with a Garth Brooks playlist. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been a country music fan all my life and became a Garth Brooks fan pretty much as soon as he started playing concerts outside of Oklahoma. My adoration and pleasure of a good country song has not diminished over the years, despite the sometimes problematic relationship that Black fans like myself have with an industry that is not only predominantly white on stage, but also predominantly white in the lyrics and in the audience.

But, just to be clear, this music is part of my history and part of my heritage – and, more importantly, Garth (born 2/7/1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma) has never let me down. We may not agree on everything, but he has created an atmosphere of inclusivity (on stage and off) that means I have never had to worry about what’s going to happen when I show up for a concert (which I always do) and I have never not sung along with a song because the lyrics are borderline (or over the line) racist or misogynistic. He’s a great storyteller and a great performer, which means that I know I can (and have) taken anyone to a Garth concert and, regardless of their musical preference, they will have a good time. I appreciate that he’s a music fan as well as a music maker. I also appreciate his love of baseball and his philanthropic endeavors that support kids playing sports. And, yes, I get a kick out of the fact that he calls his wife, “Miss Yearwood.”

You can say it’s all an act, and that’s fine, it doesn’t change the impact. Words and actions matter.

Part of the reason I love Garth’s music is that I can, as some of my friends can attest, find a Garth song for every occasion and every story. Up until quarantine, almost every one of my class playlists included at least one Garth song. The obvious exceptions to that rule are the playlists for the end of the month of Ramadan, playlists for the High Holidays in Judaism, International Women’s Day, and any day celebrating the birthday of another musician or composer. So the fact that “my sweet man” (as some of my friends and I call him) shares a birthday with Laura Ingalls Wilder (b. 1867, in Pepin Country, Wisconsin) and Sinclair Lewis (b. 1885, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota) just meant that I got to tell the story of a “Hard Luck Woman” – “[Who’s] Every Woman” – and talk about what life was like down on “Main Street” – especially when you realize the blessing of “Unanswered Prayers.”

But I knew, months ago, that this year would be different. Because Garth Brooks has a definite aversion to streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube, I’ve had to cut much of his music out of my playlists. I’ve also had to figure out a way to get certain messages across with different music. Sometimes, I appreciated the fact that a song recorded by one of the original songwriters still fit in the playlist, and I definitely snuck on a little sing-a-long with the Muppets. I also included a tribute band cover here or there; but it wasn’t the same. And, it’s been consistently frustrating to realize that while “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” has been sung in almost 80 languages and recorded in English by over 50 people or groups, very few people have included “women” in Ed McCurdy’s classic. (Even though, in my opinion, art imitates life and you actually have to work harder to just include “men.”)

So, even though, it’s a little, trivial, frivolous thing… it was causing me grief. I mean, I taught for almost 10 years before the 7th fell on a day when I taught, but it wasn’t a cultural or religious holiday! So, selfishly, I wanted to have a little bit of (my) normal.

I thought about taking the day off. I thought about chucking my ethics for the day. Then I decided to take a deep breath, let go of my attachments, get a good night sleep and wake up with the intention of teaching a class that would satisfy people and that they would appreciate.

But, a funny thing happened in the morning: Garth was on YouTube and Garth was on Spotify. It was just one song – a song I don’t always appreciate when it’s covered or adapted, but I appreciated it on this day. One song, but it’s a song that tells a story… and, ultimately, it’s a story about longing and fear and going deeper.  

“I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself”



– quoted from the song “Shallow” by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, covered by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood


 Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.


“Mr. Midnight, alone and blue
The brokenhearted call me up when they don’t know what else to do
Every song is a reminder of the love that they once knew
I’m Mr. Midnight, can I play a song for you?”



– quoted from the song “Mr. Midnight” by Garth Brooks




1. Sandra Razieli - February 9, 2021

I love all the connections you make here! I will never forget the night I drove from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem belting out “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” while being concerned that I was going to run out of gas.

ajoyfulpractice - February 9, 2021

Oh, wow! Sounds like my kind of road trip!! M

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