Since the retreat is over, I thought I'd make a post about the theme of the weekend; Moving With Joy. I'll use the discussion that we had during the retreat as the basis of this post, so you can pretend you were there with us if you missed it.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you - Lao Tzu
In yoga philosophy, joy, or contentment is Santosha, one of the Niyamas in Yoga. There are eight limbs of yoga; asana (movements), pranayama (control of the breath), pratyahara (control of the senses), yamas (duties to others), niyamas (duties to ourselves), dharana, dhyana and samadi (states of meditation leading to bliss). Each one of these limbs could be discussed for hours and hours, and each break down into even deeper sub-sections.
Right now, we are zoning in on the Niyamas which are duties to ourselves, 'positive duties' or habits for healthy living and spiritual existence. Santosha, or joy, means detaching ourselves from all of the suffering from the outside world. It is the concept that joy is not external, it is something internal.
The words root is:
SAM : total
TOSHA : acceptance, contentment, satisfaction
The idea is that joy comes from within us, we cultivate it and we embrace it. It doesn't come from something external. External things can bring us joy for a short period of time, but the hole that we try to fill with material objects will ultimately never get filled.
Patanjali's yoga sutras classify attachment as the basis of unhappiness, in a similar way to Buddhist teachings. If we let go of our attachments, we can realise that we can be totally happy and at peace in the present moment that we're in right now. A new job, relationship or situation won't bring us what we need; it's something inside that we're looking for. Instead of looking outwards, what do we already have? How many things do we have that we can be grateful for? So many, if we actively try to remind ourselves of that.
Gratitude and Mindfulness
So what can we do to start to build this joy in our lives? One great way to do this is by consciously building gratitude. Starting each day by making a mental list of all the things we're grateful for is a wonderful way to remind ourselves of what we have. A second practice we can start to grow is mindfulness. This means being aware of how we are feeling in the present moment. In order to cultivate a more content and joyful state, we need to be aware of the headspace we inhabit most of the time.
This means meeting ourselves in the present moment without judgement, and with full acceptance. If we're someone with a negative mindset, a pessimistic outlook, or self-doubting beliefs then it's important to recognise this in order to move away from this state. I find the yoga asana practise really helpful in noticing and working on changing these thought patterns. When I can't manage a pose I notice how I respond; do I tell myself that I'm bad at yoga? That I'm doing a terrible job, that other people are better than me? Or do I accept that there is where I'm at now, that I might get better, that maybe I won't... that it doesn't matter?
Meeting ourselves with acceptance, compassion and kindness is really important in order to grow joy and contentment. Growing this compassion and contentment with what we find is a skill, it's a muscle, it's something that we need to work on and grow. The more we practise, the more we can retrain our thoughts in a more positive way, releasing any negative thought patterns that aren't serving us.
The World Around Us
Changing all these world situations is not in our hands. We are not going to stop these things. But what is in our hands is the ability to find joy and peace right here and now. If we live in the present, even though the whole world might blow up in a minute, it won't bother us. We can be happy in situations of tension... To be happy this minute is in our hands... And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? - Satchidananda 128
This quote reminds me of Osho-ji saying that life shouldn't just be lived, it should be enjoyed. Of course, there are always reasons to be stressed, down, sad, depressed. When we look at the state of the world, when we look at the terrible things around us. But when we meet ourselves right here, in this present moment, are we safe? Are we comfortable? Are we fed? Watered? Loved? Why not bring this to the forefront of where we are. We can cross everything else when we get there. But we deserve to feel joy, and we deserve santosha.
This doesn't mean that we ignore the bad things that are happening in the world. This doesn't mean spiritual bypassing and saying that the external world doesn't matter. Of course we should care, use our voice and stand up for what we think is right. That is our duty as yogis, but it means that we don't become completely absorbed in it.
We recognise when we have the energy to fight, and then we stand up for what we believe in. And we recognise when it is the time for us to take the weight off our shoulders, relax and enjoy everything that we have to be grateful for and enjoy. Everybody deserves to enjoy their life, and nobody should sacrifice this to be a martyr. The more joyful you feel, the better you can show up for others. Just like everything in life, it's about finding the balance.
The final point I want to make is that this joy is contagious; once we find the inner joy that is our natural state of being. The childlike wonder, awe, enjoyment of the simple things. We can spread it to others. No matter the external circumstances, we have the ability to embrace our inner state of joy. Then we can help others to feel it too.
This practise, just like any of the other Niyamas, are in order to show up better in the world around us. As the Buddha said:
Unless we treat ourselves with love and compassion, we cannot reflect the same on others.
The more joy we find, the more we can share, inspire, and help people around us. We want to bring everyone into a state of joy and contentment, they deserve it as much as we do.
On our weekend away, I experienced great joy. We moved with joy through yoga, dance, swimming, snorkelling, conversion and rest. We took some time to relax and enjoy, and be present with where we were. The conversion I've just transcribed some of us was also a great opportunity for us to share our thoughts on the matter; do we deserve joy? Are we privileged for experiencing joy? Does joy come conditionally? These are all not simple questions, and it was a testament to the character of the yogis who came that we could discuss them all thoughtfully, sensitively and in a safe environment.
I'm grateful to have been able to share this with the beautiful people that came, and I'm grateful to have brought the joy back home with me. I hope that they did too.