This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Meagan
For most of my adult life I’ve self-identified as a butt-kicker. I launched a writing career in my early 20s, while raising a houseful of small children; published several books by the time I was 30, and have re-invented myself through hard times and career shifts more times than I can count. I’ve never met a problem I can’t hustle my way out of.
At least, that’s what I’ve always told myself.
Maybe that’s partly why, after a rough holiday that included your typical divorced-parent stressors and regrets, plus the unexpected addition of a sudden and painful breakup, I dove headlong into a New Year’s challenge at my yoga studio. The challenge? To take 60 studio classes, in two months (59 days, since February is a short month, but who’s counting?).
In my typically action-oriented way, I reasoned that keeping busy would help me: create a distraction, give me something else to focus on rather than playing and re-playing scenarios in my head.
And it has helped – immensely, actually, but not always for the reasons I anticipated at the beginning.
On the first day of the challenge, my instructor talked about santosha which was the studio’s focus for the month of January. Santosha is a Sanskrit word that can be loosely translated to mean “contentment”.
I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty happy person, so I wasn’t sure what lessons I’d be able to glean from this particular focus. But. “It’s not about being happy – that’s a different thing,” my instructor explained that first day of January. “Santosha means finding contentment with what is happening right now, even if it’s hard or negative.”
Wait. Being content with what is? Like, right now? You mean, instead of trying to fix it?
But what if “what is”, you know, sucks?
My “word for the year” in 2019 is “patience.” When I originally chose the word I was beginning to recognize my white-knuckle tendency to rush situations, leaping rapidly from one possibility to another in order to nail down an outcome and avoid uncertainty. Uncertainty, it turns out, is my own personal Kryptonite.
I’d started to unpack this discomfort with not-knowing, and in the process it became pretty clear that my hustling nature stems in large part from a chaotic childhood where basics like relationships and resources were often uncertain and fleeting. Of course I was drawn to action to create a different kind of reality for myself, and eventually, my children. And that can be a very good thing.
But when the knowledge that at any moment, you could lose – money, a home, a job, a relationship – is practically wired into your DNA, “hustling” can start to look an awful lot like clinging, manipulating, and pushing or pulling other people – in other words, expending tons of emotional and mental energy to get the outcome you want. The irony is that all that clinging just as often leads to loss, or at least, disappointment.
What I didn’t realize before starting this consistent, daily-or-sometimes-twice-daily yoga practice, was that santosha – the practice of finding contentment – is the sister to patience.
I can’t force, act, or white-knuckle myself into being patient – it doesn’t work that way. No, in order to wait patiently for what’s next without losing my mind, I have to find a way to be OK with what’s happening right now – and by definition, that means being at peace with not knowing what’s around the next bend.
“You’re in the pose now, may as well settle in,” my instructor said as we sank deeper into Warrior Two for the third time. It was ten days into the yoga challenge, and the Warrior poses – upright lunges, arms thrown up in victory in Warrior 1, or in a straight line front to back in Warrior 2, as if I’d just thrown a spear – were giving me more trouble than they ever had before, mostly because I was finally trying to improve my form in earnest rather than just getting through the class.
The tops of my shoulders and the quads on my front leg burned, and at that moment, staying put was about the last thing I wanted to do. Settle in, rather than fidget, back off, ease up, or move on to the next thing? And by the way, what IS the next thing? Can we get on to it already? How can I prepare if I don’t know what it is? How do I know I can do it? What if it’s even harder than this?
“Try to find something to like about this posture,” she said. “You’re here anyway, so find some joy.” Ugh. But then I realized that there is something about Warrior 2 that I’ve always loved – gazing over the fourth finger of my outstretched hand, trying to make my arms as light and graceful as possible even as my legs are digging down into the ground.
Hey, it was still hard. But I found that when I focused on the part I like, I didn’t actively hate the pose anymore. And before I knew it, we were moving on to the next thing…which, by the way, I was able to do just fine. (I’ve been to 38 yoga classes in the last 33 days, never knowing what any of the instructors are going to throw my way – and as it turns out, I haven’t died yet.)
It’s a perfect metaphor for santosha, isn’t it? Finding a way to be content with what is right in front of me (even if it’s boring, or stressful, or sad, or hard) rather than trying to force it to be better, easier, or more interesting. Those sweaty, leg-shaking moments are always the hardest of any practice, but the most sweetly rewarding, too, proving that all I can control is how I show up in any given moment – finding something to enjoy, settling in. After all, what’s coming next will come, one way or the other.
Guys, there’s a lot about my life that’s hard right now. Being 41 and single is hard. Being a mom of a bunch of kids transitioning rapidly to adulthood is hard. Not knowing exactly what my next steps will be – with our business, with my relationships, where we might end up living – it’s all just hard. I know you can all relate in some way, even if the specifics are different – because hey, we’re moms. It’s hard.
But as my instructor said: You’re here now, so you may as well settle in and find something to enjoy.
I hope, wherever you are today, you can find some santosha, and that it helps you find the patience to wait for the next thing, whatever it might be.