I would like to challenge your thinking about the pinnacle stage that yoga is supposed to lead us to samadhi. Samadhi gets the top rung on the Ashtanga ladder. Seems to be the inspiration for all our expiration, frustration and conversations, this one included. Yogi’s love to flaunt their samadhi around to people who seem not to know how to pronounce it, let alone experience it. Some yoga studio owners are even bold enough to name their yoga studio, Samadhi. Which, I would believe implies that if I practice there, I would receive my bliss way ahead of all those other hard-working students of yoga. But is all this sweating, bending, breathing, meditating and chanting really going to make me blissful or take me to a super conscious state?
I’m not so sure I want bliss or a super conscious state. I have found the thing that I experience the most from yoga is samtosa (pronounced Saam -to-sha) Just saying the word for me seems to put me linked right into its meaning, via feeling. Samtosa means contentment. Sutra 2.42 says “Samtosat anuttamah sukha labhah” translated simply as contentment brings supreme happiness. I find that because I do yoga, I am more content, more often and more easily. I sometimes think that samtosa should be given more respect and attention. Right now it’s just tucked into the second limb of yoga; the niyama’s. (which are methods for how I interact with myself) Where-as the first limb; the yama’s, bring’s me into my relationship with the world. (everything outside myself)
I feel like people are grasping for this eternal bliss in many of their activities in life. It’s kind of funny, because if I read up on samadhi, I find that there is not that much mention of this state of bliss. It is said as such ” The bliss OF samadhi”, because samadhi is actually where the mind becomes one with the object of its attention. Samadhi is a heightened state. Or it could be said that it’s a heightened state of dhyana – meditation, which is an unbroken flow of awareness. Somewhere along the way, people just started to say that the end goal of yoga or that the meaning of samadhi is Bliss. Bliss to me is happiness with euphoria.
We seem to be a society craving happiness more than anything else. Advertisers use this happiness desire on us endlessly to get us to buy more, do more, eat more and overall MORE of anything. I have read a book called “The Happiness Project”, and “The Geography of Bliss”, (by the way, good book) “Stumbling on Happiness”, and “Hector and the Search for Happiness”. I’m sure there are many other books out there touting their promise of achieving greater happiness. Campbell’s Soup has a whole ad campaign currently around the notion that “You can bring your happiness to work.” by bringing Campbell’s Soup to work for lunch. If all I need to do is eat Campbell’s Soup to be more happy, then why am I doing all this bending, sweating, twisting, and breathing to try to achieve it? Seems like there might be a short cut? Can soup really make me happier? Can reading all those books get me there quicker? Can doing all this yoga really lead me to Bliss?
If happiness was so easy to achieve, then there wouldn’t be such a large percentage of the population on antidepressants. I find that contentment comes way easier for me then bliss or happiness does. When I am content, I am at peace with what I am doing, or where I am, or who I’m with, or even if I am all by myself, no where in particular, doing nothing of great importance. I can find myself content walking my dogs. I can find myself very content reading a book, or right in the middle of my yoga practice, or even while raking leaves. In order to achieve samtosa I must not want more than what I have in that moment. Which would mean, I am not grasping for MORE! Aparigraha, or non-grasping is another golden nugget from the great limbs of yoga. It also falls under the niyama’s.
To me, I like that when I am content I don’t feel pressure. But when I am happy, I sometimes do feel pressure. Happiness’s dark shadow would be sadness. The expression that “the higher you go the further you fall” says to me the risk people take with all this bliss seeking. I figure that if I am content, I am neither sad nor happy but equally established in my reality. It’s not that I don’t want to be happy. Happiness is fun and joyful, and I like feeling that way. It’s just that I don’t need all my moments in life to be off the Richter scale. I am comfortable with the mundane, familiar and the dependable parts of my life. I know these moments of samtosa/contentment will be interrupted with moments of great joy and sadness but I’d rather have my life 80% of the time be where I am at ease and steady in my attitude, mood and energy. Being content does makes me happy, not euphoric, but happy. So does that mean happiness, a.k.a. bliss really is the top rung?
Samadhi is becoming one with what I direct my attention towards. When I’m content, my attention is no where in particular. I think that’s the difference between samadhi and samtosa. I think samadhi is for a higher form of spirituality but santosa is for daily practicality. To grow into being content more often in my life on a day-to-day basis would then probably help me create more room in my life to experience samadhi. So I think this a great example of chicken or egg? Cart or horse? I need samtosa to experience samadhi, without it, it’s not possible. I first need to learn how to become content with the mundane, necessary moments of my life before I can experience the bliss OF samadhi. So Samtosa is the egg and samadhi is the chicken that’s born from the egg. So does samtosa need more attention brought to it? I think so. I think if you were pitting the two against each other, as which is more important, it would definitely be samtosa.
Ding, ding, ding! So in this corner, we have the heavy weight of contentment and in the other corner we have the lightweight samadhi. I first need to learn to become content with the necessary things. Contentment is like the drill work a boxer must do to win a fight. The repetitive, day-to-day work that prepares the fighter to get in the ring and to go up against his/her challenging opponents of life. I must first become content before I can experience that one pointed focus necessary for samadhi. When a boxer is in the ring he/she is thinking of one thing and one thing only. If he/she separates from that one thing for even a moment he might take a hit that could take him out of the fight. He can only get to that one pointed focus by first becoming content with doing the humdrum, redundant, but unavoidable skills of his craft.
So my advice: enjoy the moments you are neither happy nor sad, with people or by yourself, busy or bored. Become comfortable in the familiar, necessary patterns of your day, you’ll stop swinging so drastically between extremes and find that the place in the middle is a very nice place to be.
So the winner of this competition samadhi vs. samtosa is… yep you guess it, SAMTOSA!
Now be content with that.