Over the last ten years of teaching at meditation centers, I have seen an incredible spectrum of people coming in the doors, seeking something. They might say they want to feel more grounded, less stressed out at work, or that they are dealing with some tough emotional issues. "Would you say," I inquire, "that you're seeking a sense of contentment?"
Yes. I would continuously hear 'yes.' Contentment sounds good to all of us, I imagine. We live in a world filled with greed, anger and depression where contentment seems to be a fleeting and far-fetched notion. That is one of the reasons why a class called "Contentment in Everyday Life" in now being offered at Shambhala Centers worldwide.
While it might seem like a far-out goal to new meditators, the key to contentment is pretty simple. Here are some of the basic principles of finding contentment in everyday life.
Discernment is the tool that got you interested in meditation. I'm guessing that like so many others, you discerned that you were not 100 percent happy with the way things are in your life and decided, "Well, let me try this meditation thing out." Perhaps after you learned to meditate, you discerned that it's a tool that's valuable for you and determined that you wanted to make it more of a part of your life.
In its simplest form, discernment is learning what aspects of your life you want to cultivate (such as mindfulness meditation), and which you want to cut out (such as turning your mind to Facebook). We practice discernment by studying our mind on the meditation cushion, really getting to know ourselves and from there we can clearly see what aspects of our habitual routine we want to keep and which are not so helpful to us.
Once we hone the principle of discernment, we can learn how to apply it to relating with our family, what food or drink we put into our bodies, and what activities we engage in that breed contentment.
Once you have discerned which aspects of your life you want to cultivate and which you want to reject, it's not an immediate straight-forward fix to mold a newly spiritual, perfect lifestyle for yourself. It's a long path of undoing some of the harmful patterns that you have engaged in for years (decades maybe) and learning new patterns of behavior that are more in line with your own heart and vision for how you want to live your life. Along this path you need to learn to be gentle with yourself.
Sometimes I meet people who have tried meditation once or twice but say that it didn't work for them. That's a bit like picking up a guitar for the first time and being frustrated because you can't immediately play "Free Bird." Meditation is a slow and steady process of learning to be grounded in the reality of the present moment and discovering who you really are. It's not something you can try once and thus be "cured" of destructive feelings and activity.
Since meditation is such a gradual process it's important to be gentle with yourself as you engage this practice. If you have a hard time staying with your breath or even making it to your meditation cushion don't berate yourself or think you're the world's worst meditator. Just gently acknowledge where you are and know that just like Lynyrd Skynyrd it will take time to hone this craft to the point of mastery.
Learning to Be Now
While discernment and gentleness are important, the heart of meditation practice is learning to be content with what is going on right now. As the Shambhala teacher Pema Chodron has said, "This very moment is the perfect teacher." Whatever we need, we can find it in the present moment.
The basic practice of meditation is to tune into now. When we get caught up in a fight we had with our co-worker the other day that is not now. When we worry about plans for the upcoming weekend that is not now. The physical sensation of our breath, a clear mind, and an open heart is now. The more we train ourselves to connect with that, the more content we will feel.
The trick with all of these principles is to take them into your everyday life. We call meditation practice "practice" for a reason. We are learning to be discerning, gentle, and present with every waking hour we are not on the meditation cushion. If we can lean into the reality of our situation and approach it with these principles we will truly experience contentment.
Contentment in Everyday Life is offered at Shambhala Centers worldwide.