Most of my writing inspirations come while I am listening to other peoples stories. As I listen, the little voices in my head start asking questions that just need answers. And this happened a few months ago. I was in a Vinyasa class and my instructor was telling a story about one of her neighbor’s spouses getting upset about holiday requirements. The neighbor’s spouse was uptight about “things that had to be done and parties that had to be attended”. In contrast, the neighbor himself wondered why his wife just could not accept things as they were. Why couldn’t she “go with the flow” and experience things as they come to being? As she was listening to the story, my instructor said that she immediately thought of the contentment and acceptance that neighbor spoke of. She said this neighbor was a yogi and didn’t even know it.
It was a good story that supported the mantra of class – being content. But upon hearing it, my inner voices went into “devil’s advocate” mode and asked “Is it possible to be too content?” As the instructor kept encouraging the class to clear our minds I just could not do it. My mind was spinning with more questions. Questions like, “Can you lose yourself in contentment?” or, “If you are too content, can you lose the motivation to experience new things?” or, “If you are willing to accept things as they are, do you lose the passions to improve, to change, to move forward?”
Deborah Adele’s The yamas and niyamas: Exploring yoga’s ethical practice, devotes an entire chapter to the Niyama of contentment. But Ms. Adele only explores the paths and difficulties of reaching contentment. She says nothing of being too content. However, a quick Internet search found an article by Sagnik Chattergee that gets closer to answering this question. Mr. Chattergee writes specifically about the paradox of being too content. His opinion is that being content is a good thing. But, using contentment as an excuse to do nothing is apathy.
An online post by an unknown author expresses a similar opinion. Quoted, it states “there is an irony in the realm of contentment. If you are to content, you will stop being ambitious. And if you are ambitious you will never be content.”
As I examine these two opinions, I find that it is the “potential of apathy” that troubles me and it is “apathy” that answers the original question. It is possible to be too content.
So what does a person do? When climbing the mountain to contentment, how do we prevent ourselves from going over the cliff of apathy? There are probably numerous answers here, but mine is relatively simple, and it’s yogic. My answer is to be aware. I make it sound so simple and easy, don’t I? Well, unfortunately, just like most other answers found in life, it’s not simple or easy. There are always conflicts and difficulties to overcome. The biggest difficulty is actually being aware. We as humans tend to focus on the things in life in front of our eyes and ignore everything else. We are not as aware as we should be. But, if we are working toward contentment, we must always remember that apathy is the point of “too far”. We must know that the cliff is close and be aware of its presence.
To avoid going over the apathy cliff we must balance back toward contentment. We balance contentment against apathy. Once again the mantra of balance comes forward. And we know from the mat that balancing is not easy. Some days it is impossible. Balance takes practice. It does not come naturally. We balance and we fall. When it comes to balancing contentment against apathy, we may fall. But then we must get up and try again. Just as we find it on the mat, we recognize the imbalance of our being and we move toward the center.
I will admit here, that this essay has been one of my most difficult to write. Not that the topic was new or unknown, well maybe that’s it – unknown. You see I have been troubled and, for the most part, unable to think of contentment since late last year. So my personal journey to contentment hasn’t recently got near that cliff of apathy. I’m having a hard time climbing the mountain. Maybe that’s a topic for next time. Until then, I wish you all the best of karma on your own personal path to contentment. Be careful when you’re near the edge. ~ Namaste
Over to you, yogis! Tell us about your experiences balancing contentment and ambition in the comments!