What is contentment? And what brings contentment into our lives?
As much as it’s true that there is a greater consciousness, Basic Goodness, ALOHA, and that we can experience contentment, agitation, and suffering.
We’ve discussed ALOHA and the importance of gentleness/friendliness to oneself. Such gentleness may seem naive to some of us, it may seem easy to some of us, and impossible to others. Either way, there is often much more that we can learn about being gentle with ourself and our experience.
We struggle with our mind, trying to fix it, change it, or ignore it. We struggle with our livelihood, often searching for a job, or better career, position, or notoriety. If we think of ourselves as meditators, we struggle to spend more time practicing and feel guilty when we don’t practice. We struggle with our relationships, feeling dissatisfied and looking for more or an escape. We even struggle moment to moment, with the constant agitation of our thoughts, keeping busy all of the time and staying distracted rther than being present. It is difficult to simply be present.
Our habitual mind is constantly distracted by the past and the future; it rarely rests in nowness. We experience this movement of the busy, discontent mind when we sit in meditation. We see very clearly how much discursive thinking is bubbling aware inside us. Such constant discursive movement is a sense of basic struggle or basic discontentment. It cn lead to habitual activities in everyday life.
We are often caught up in rushing through our meals, not being present during our walk, train ride, or drive to work or school; the mind wandering while we listen to our partner, child, friend, boss. We daydream about what we feel is missing in our life and fantasize about what would make it better. We wander into the past and future searching for contentment or safety. We are rarely in our life as it is happening.
The message of aligning with Source, ALOHA is that we will not find contentment through struggle. It is when we have an experience of non-struggling that we have a sense of relief. We can let go and simply be genuine. This is the basis of contentment. Through meditation and mindfulness of everyday activities we can work with this habitual mind and learn to rest in nowness.
When we let go of struggle, this allows for a gentle awareness of peresent experience. This is a sense of nowness or being on the spot in our life. Nowness is another way of saying mindfulness or being present.
“The way to experience nowness is to realize that this very moment, this very point in your life, is always THE occasion.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
What does it feel like to experience this sense of nowness? In the Shambhala teachings, each of the stages on the path, such as contentment, is connected with an animal that depicts this quality of warriorship: tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. The tiger is an ancient image that symbolizes the basic quality of contentment, power in gentleness, and mindfulness. The imagery helps us to get a feeling for this aspect of the path. The qualities of the tiger are the foundation for the Shambhala journey as well as the basis for a sane and uplifted human life.
The tiger moves slowly with mindfulness and care. Its senses are awake and attuned. It place each paw carefully. The tiger is present, curious, and awake to one’s daily life environment and mind of the moment.One is willing to explore these experiences and environments – even if they are experiences of confusion, speed, fear, claustrophobia, richness, irritation, and so on. Rather than looking elsewhere for contentment, the tiger is right now. In order to be present, on the spot, there needs to be tremendous gentleness and trust.
The image of the tiger in its prime, moving slowly with mindfulness, helps to demonstrate the quality of meditation in action.
We can be present as we eat, dress, sleep, wash, take care of our home, and relate with our schedule. This is all part of the path. We can be present as a way of living, day-to-day, not just on the meditation cushion.
Therefore, learning to walk like the tiger is a practice. It takes reflection, learning, and patience. It is not about a quick change overnight. We can aspire to lead a life that embodies mindfulness, patience, contentment: the qualities of the tiger. The main skill in living such a life is developing a sense of nowness – really being present when we wash the dishes, make a cup of tea, listen to a friend, or walk down the street. We can be present in our life.
With not-struggling as the ground and nowness as the path, we come back to the present. We notice our world. When we are now, we can see ALOHA in ordinary, simple situations. This brings appreciation for our world.
“Peace has to do with non-struggling. Contentment is more intelligent; contentment is knowing that peace. Contentment is knowing what is enough and knowing what is good. This leads to satisfaction which is not wanting more. Instead of keeping to eat and buy and trying to gain more, contentment allows the warrior to appreciate what we already have.” – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
We could say that appreciation is a sense of simple enjoyment. Contentment is a state of feeling fulfilled, present, and not needing to look elsewhere.