Off the Mat: The Age of Contentment
The Age of Contentment
Contentment is a nine year-old in summer. He runs like fluid water, swift and effortless and fresh. We can’t keep up anymore. I don’t even try. His unconscious skip-hop step betrays the simple excitement of moving. He devours chapter books, curled on the sofa with one of the warrior cats’ adventures, then bikes to the library to get more. He makes his own sandwich (though clean up skills are still lacking.)
He’s aware of his appearance, but not yet in a self-conscious way. “I like my hair like this” he says of his flattened-on-one-side bedhead. His simple self-confident acceptance is irritating at times, until I realize my irritation is jealousy. To be so content!
He considers his life far from perfect. I am the meanest Mama in the universe because he doesn’t have his own phone, unlimited Minecraft time, or ice cream with every meal. Even so, he sings himself into unbroken sleep. He smiles with his whole body.
By contrast, too many adults I know, myself included, are largely malcontent. I scowl at my never ending to do list, dust under the couch, spider veins and cellulite. Begrudge the beauty outside as I hunch over laptop indoors. Resent the bright moonlight for interrupting elusive sleep, and then lie awake cataloguing all I’ve left undone – personally, professionally, spiritually. How much energy do I put into being aggravated?
Yoga philosophy names contentment as one of the key personal practices for a meaningful life. Commentaries are motivational: when we experience santosha, or contentment with oneself and others, we experience “deep inner happiness.” Scholars describe such contentment as not comparing ourselves to others physically or materially or not being attached to outcomes or results, rather being comfortable with who we are and where we are in life, accepting that it will change.
One teacher offers a simple suggestion for cultivating this sense of contentment: smile inside. Try it. Feel a smile come not from moving your cheeks but from within. Maybe you can just smile. Maybe it’ll help to think of something or someone which leads you to smile. Draw on this inner smile as you face the current details of life – counter crumbs or car repairs, health or heartbreak. Breathe, smiling inside, and remind yourself that this too will change.
Dad turned 80 this summer. We’d debated how to celebrate for over a year – an extended family reunion with his four siblings and their offspring? No one had the bandwidth to herd that many cats. A beach house for his kids and grandkids? No one had the budget. In the end, the eleven of us gathered under their roof, grown grandkids sprawled on couches and recliners, grown children (myself included) grumbling about the lack of adequate pillows. And in spite of the ongoing discussion of gifts appropriate for the significant occasion, in the end what mattered was the effort everyone made to get there. He was content with our willingness to spend 48 hours under the same roof, eat lime sherbet, play cards and puzzles, fill a pew in his church.
I found myself by his side in the living room at one seemingly chaotic moment. Misty eyed, he caught mine and gestured toward my gangly son, wrestling with his 20 something cousins. “My clan is growing,” he said, hands indicating height, not width, “this way.” His inner smile exuded happiness. Joy. Contentment. Remembering now as I write, my eyes sting. Wish I’d asked him what’s it like? How does 80 feel? To hold us, your babies, and our babies, now too big to hold? But I didn’t. I still can. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll just be content to have shared that moment. Maybe let it inspire my inner smile for a while.
Two not-so-little boys gleefully run in the dark as we wait for fireworks to begin. They come close as the first sparkles fly, joining their parents on picnic blankets. My kiddo sits close, but not too close, despite the darkness and late hour. On the blanket next to us, his bestie climbs into his mother’s lap, seemingly without a second thought. I notice my boy noticing, grateful when he follows suit.
My back immediately begins to ache with the effort of containing his bony angles in my arms. But I’m content to hold him close. My sore shoulders won’t last. Neither will this moment.
Photo credit: S. Springer
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com