My honey and I took an impromptu ‘honeymoon’ up the coast this past week. With this slip of a coastline for a view and access to fresh eggs and a vegetable garden on-site, we did little more than enjoy the weather and each other’s company. I knitted some gifts, we read lots of books, we saluted the sun on a platform overlooking the sea, and we took the dogs for multiple walks on the beach. Amazingly we had little to no internet access and absolutely no cellular access for three days and nights. If there is an “easy” way to peace, then it might be completely ridding yourself of any technology and any availability to anyone beyond a very tiny group (e.g. two people and two dogs).
But if ignorance of a larger, more demanding world is bliss, then each mile trekked back home is not. And as we hit 101 the change in atmosphere became palpable. We were in the world again, and that world is full of crazy drivers and neon lights. Cell phones lit up with messages. Email in-boxes buzzed. Demand was high.
The whole experience has me thinking about contentment, or santosha. I found it remarkably easy to be content in my cottage by the sea. The days were bright, the food was fresh and simple, the views were breathtaking. Internal peace comes nearly hand-in-hand with such an environment. Yet maintaining this ease in a more frantic, more crowded environment seems harder. Often when we talk about santosha, we focus on the internal landscape of the mind, of our feelings, or of our reactions. Certainly environments are a factor in that equation, but the question is how we respond to it: Do we allow external variables to influence our general state of contentedness? What I am curious about is related but slightly different: How do external stimuli affect our ability to control our general state of contentedness?
Shy of doing the research, I actually don’t know the scientific studies on external stimuli, stress, and contentedness. So what follows is mostly common sense brewed with speculation. Most of us, I’d venture, live in harried, claustrophobic lives where numerous demands seek our attention. Yoga provides one tool for cutting through the clutter and for clearing a little space where serenity can pool; meditation provides another. Practicing them in some form while we’re navigating life ‘off the mat’ and in the company of other over-stimulated folks might offer some form of relief. More importantly, they might help us shift or change the kinds of external stimuli that do threaten our own agency or our own sanity, if only because they increase our awareness of our potential for peace and our need or craving for it.