SANTOSHA : CONTENTMENT
After all the stories I have shared with you so far, would you be surprised to hear that as I write, I feel rather content?
Gratitude and contentment are similar, but slightly different things. Gratitude is appreciating and being thankful for what we have. Contentment is a feeling of evenness and fullness with things exactly how they are. One of my favorite stories to illustrate this comes from a teacher of mine. She tells a story of a visit to India, where after a long exhausting day of travel she was in her hotel room resting, just wishing she could just have a cup of tea. Suddenly, out of the blue, there was a knock at the door; magically a bellhop had appeared to offer her some tea! She was so thankful. But that was not contentment, she would say. Contentment would have been being in the hotel room, feeling fully satisfied whether the tea was there or not.
Practicing gratitude can help create the environment where contentment can arise. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to feel it, and other times it just swells up from the inside like a giant wonderful love balloon. Gradually we can come to a place where taking in the good and the bad and letting them go in equal measure, is possible.
Because we live on a 46,000 acre ranch, you can drive for hours and still not drive over the same area twice. Two years ago was my first experience with what’s called “Sunday Drivin”. New friends from the neighboring ranch had invited us to ride along in their giant pick up truck to check out the new bridge they had just built. When they asked us to join, I could not think of anything more boring. When we actually got going, it was even more boring than I had imagined. Three hours at 15 miles an hour, driving by what looked like the exact same trees, cliffs, rocks, cows, horses, and sky over and over again on repeat. I kept thinking “hurry up!!!” as if I had somewhere more important to be (New Hampshire? New York? 🙂 ).
I’m not sure when it happened, but all I can tell you is I want to go on those long, slow, “boring” drives now. And I swear it’s not just because I have nothing better to do! I feel myself soaking in the slowness, the sameness, the beauty that’s easy to overlook unless you are driving 15 miles an hour. It’s like a slow measured deep breath. From our house, we can ride our bikes down a six mile road that winds along the Mora River. If you go around dusk, it’s likely that you will see at least a few of the elk from the herd of 300 that travel through our valley. I have seen antelope, bear, deer, blue heron, beavers, wild turkeys, skunks, jackrabbits, eagles, hawks – all on a bike ride just minutes from my house. When we take a drive deeper onto the mesa, it’s hard not to feel that along with the expansion of the horizon, there is an expansion in my vision, heart and mind. It’s the same trees, cliffs, rocks, cows, horses and sky as before, but none of it looks the same to me, anymore.
The pace of life is a lot slower out here. Sometimes that can be frustrating, like when it takes you 6 months to get your car registered (not kidding). But my capacity to take in what is unique and special about living out here has grown. I have found that I don’t mind as much that my sleeping and waking is in greater harmony with the rising and falling of the sun. Meals cooked at home instead of going out can be pretty exciting when sitting on the porch swing watching one of those dazzling sunsets. Sure I miss the vibrancy of the city and love it when I visit, but I also appreciate the quiet and the stillness much more than I ever thought possible two years ago.
Above all else, there is something, rather someone, that I appreciate more and more every day since arriving here.
In a few days it will be Brad and I’s 4th wedding anniversary. A year ago at this time, I wasn’t so sure we were going to make it. I hate to write that, but it’s part of our story. It’s a much longer story for another time, but you can imagine that the stress of the previous 3 years had built up, and no longer felt tenable to either one of us. We didn’t want to give up, but we were having trouble seeing a way forward.
There was a definitive moment, a few days before our anniversary last year, when we both realized our relationship was on the brink and we could either keep going the way we had been, straight off the cliff, or make the hairpin turn. We chose the turn, and quite miraculously, almost immediately actually, from that moment forward the most wonderful year of our entire relationship opened up before us. It feels funny to write that considering everything else happening in the world right now. But the past year has brought us into a truer relationship to ourselves and with each other. The struggles really did bring us closer together.
I’m not sure I have the words to express the gratitude I feel for this.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where I feel fully seen, loved and appreciated. I do.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where we inspire each other to be better versions of ourselves. I am.
I hoped to be in a relationship where I feel awe and deep respect for my partner. I do.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where through our struggles we would grow in our capacity to listen, understand and love. I am.
I hoped to be in a relationship where I feel excited about the future, and couldn’t imagine it with anyone else. I do.
So yes, as I write this, with everything that has happened and with everything that might happen, I feel full. Slowing down has been part of that. Like a 15 mile an hour drive, I had to learn to take things in and let things go in a way I didn’t have to when I was rushing around in the city. Practicing gratitude, which I struggled with a lot in those first two years out here, has created an environment where I catch myself feeling that elusive feeling of contentment. It’s not that I don’t think about the future, or want to make changes and do things differently. But there are moments where I can look around at all that currently is, and like a long deep breath in and out, feel content with everything just the way it is.