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Santosha: Developing Equanimity

Santosha means contentment. Many of us think of contentment as being synonymous with happiness. While they are certainly linked, but they are not necessarily the same thing. Rather, santosha is closer to the idea of equanimity or acceptance, the idea of taking an open-handed, open-hearted stance to life, staying steady regardless of what comes along. The notion of santosha seems to bring up a lot of paradoxes: being OK with not being OK, being content with being discontent, being comfortable with discomfort, remaining open to and curious about being bored. It is about accepting and finding a way to be with whatever comes.

That doesn’t mean that we have to like everything that comes along. It doesn’t mean being a doormat or not being affected when we see injustice or cruelty. It just prevents us from being in denial, fighting against the reality of what is and from putting too much energy behind our emotions. Difficult emotions are going to arise. Sadness and anger are going to be there. And they can be very useful. Sadness can lead us to reach out for social support that we need. Anger can spur us to action. However, these emotions can’t stick around for prolonged periods without burning us and others around us out. On the other hand, nothing is to be gained by pushing these emotions away. We all know that denying your grief or stuffing down your anger doesn’t work out well. We need to learn to be OK with our emotions, whatever they are, let them run their course and let them go. While the events that bring up difficult emotions may stick around, we can approach them in a more skillful, grounded way if we are neither wallowing in or fighting with our emotions.

The poem The Guest House by the 13-century Persian poet Rumi deals beautifully with the idea of welcoming all of our emotions in, even those that can be quite bad mannered.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

I love the image of us as owners of the guest house and emotions as visitors. First of all, if we are the host, there is a separation between ourselves and the emotions. We aren’t the emotion. We are host of the emotion. I am not an anxious person Just because anxiety comes to visit me sometimes. Anxiety’s visits don’t define me. Secondly, when we throw open the door and greet the difficult emotion, we take on a position of power. We aren't a helpless victim, cowering inside. We are the lord of the manor. The emotions will come in, and they may wreak havoc, but in the end, they are just guests. They are not us. Once they have passed, we can tidy up and carry on.

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