The Practice of ContentmentThom Allen
There are few truths that can either uplift or frighten us to the core, and one of them is the simple fact that “Everything changes.” When we are experiencing an uncomfortable circumstance, just knowing that constant change is inevitable can give us the courage and hope to weather the most difficult storm. However when we are enjoying life, the mere thought of having it change in some way or even possibly all go away can be terrifying. We spend our time trying to recreate, or avoid recreating the past. We worry about, or anxiously await, what the future holds. Yet we know that neither of these, past nor future, truly exists. What we have is only the present moment and merely our thoughts about the past and future. Unfortunately our brain does not always recognize the difference between an actual experience and what we imagine. So when we spend our time, for example, worried that we will never get through a difficult situation or that a wonderful experience is inevitably going to end, we create self-induced suffering as well as the numerous physical manifestations of stress that show up in the body.
One of the ways to help overcome this suffering is through the practice of contentment. By accepting our life as it is in the moment, we can experience a sense of inner peace, regardless of the external circumstances we are facing. Contentment doesn’t mean that we have to approve of what difficulties we are experiencing. Ultimately we may decide to take action to influence life changes or witnessing those changes that are outside our control. However, contentment challenges us to accept the reality of our current situation, with courage, compassion and at times, even gratitude. Implementing this state of mind, as with any habit, takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself when you forget and acknowledge those moments when you remember, noticing how each feel in your body and mind. If you have a regular yoga or meditation practice, this can be an excellent time to practice incorporating contentment. Notice how often there is a tendency to judge, label, or attach to the idea that any aspect of you or your experience needs to be different than it actually is. Physically, or even emotionally, you may notice a feeling of discomfort followed by a stressful thought. Now see what happens when you begin to practice compassionate acceptance. Perhaps you begin to notice feelings of peace when seeing the various aspects of your life just as they are, without the need to change them and without the worry of them changing. Simply be with what is and watch your sense of happiness grow. Contentment is a journey that takes practice, so allow yourself time to grow into this new way of experiencing life…just for now, just as it is.