“Contentment Changes Everything” was written by Rod and originally posted on the Huffington Post website in 2011.
By most measures, Deborah had it all: three healthy, beautiful children, a loving and faithful husband whose income supported them and provided the family with a lovely home and an abundant life. They were able to take family vacations twice a year, and Deborah could afford to update her wardrobe on a regular basis. They had all the latest appliances, nice cars, basically whatever they wanted. Deborah had the luxury of being free to do whatever she chose to do with her time. She was a dedicated mother, blessed with a magnetic, vibrant personality. She was beloved and treasured by her close friends.
Yet as ideal as her life may have appeared on the outside, inside Deborah felt uneasy. She lived with persistent frustration and no clear sense of how to resolve it. Despite being able to afford to satisfy most of her material wants, she lived with a nagging sense of disappointment––“if only life were different.” If only her husband had more time for her, or her kids listened more, or just maybe…if she could go back to the life she had before kids and a husband, the nagging sense of dissatisfaction would be lifted.
Deborah never considered this last one as a real option, but she often fantasized about the many things that might solve her predicament. She also tried different things in the hope of finding her solution: shopping, massage, therapy, dieting, yoga, photography classes, greater involvement in her kids’ school. She turned to several self-help books. She searched out everything she could think of, save the one that would wind up making the difference––Contentment.
Deborah had known about meditation for years. The last minute or two of the yoga classes she attended usually ended with it, but because it was her least favorite part of class, she never thought of devoting time to it outside of class. However, one day while trying to sit still during meditation at the end of class she felt something new, a kind of wholeness that she had never experienced before. She had an epiphany. She approached her teacher, a student of mine, and asked for some guidance to practice meditation at home. Suzanne recommended that she meditate on her breath and gave her simple directions for practicing it. She emphasized that Deborah do the practice for 40 days and that she do it consistently, irrespective of the results. “Even if you only do it for five minutes, do it every day,” Suzanne told her.
The first day at home, Deborah did her best to sit still and simply follow her breath. It sounded so ridiculously simple: “Follow your breath.” But it wasn’t as simple as it sounded. “Why should something that is so simple be so hard?” She was intrigued. She decided that she was up for the challenge and that there would be something to gain from learning to get her mind to be more still.
The first month, Deborah managed to meditate five or six days a week, on average nearly twenty minutes each time. It took a while but as time went on she experienced that her body and mind were fighting it less and less. At some point, she actually began to enjoy the process and looked forward to doing it.
Deborah had decided not to tell anyone that she was going to start practicing meditation; she didn’t want others’ expectations of her to influence her. Yet within a couple of weeks of starting her practice, she heard from several friends that she seemed different, more at ease. Her husband mentioned that there was something lighter, more playful about her. None of these comments surprised her; Deborah hadn’t felt so inspired for as long as she could remember.
Weeks followed during which her time in meditation seemed to fly by. But then, just when she was feeling “home free,” and that she had overcome the hard part, she hit a period where meditating seemed harder than ever. For the next month or two, her practice would vary from being effortless and calm to being very uncomfortable. It took some additional support and guidance from Suzanne for Deborah to meet the challenges of sitting through her restlessness and resistance and to continue practicing. But she did.
Then one day she had a powerful, life-changing insight. The mood of dissatisfaction that had long been part of her life, she realized, was not so much “a part of her” as it was something that, at some level, she was choosing to hold onto. Her chronic dissatisfaction was suddenly no more real to her than a dream, one that she had been dreaming for far too long. Suddenly she felt herself “wake up,” completely unidentified with the old dream.
A few months after she had begun meditating, the feelings that had plagued Deborah for years had lifted almost entirely. The result was that her expectations of her life and family changed. The aimlessness that used to define her had become a thing of the past. She now sought friends and activities that seemed essential to her and spent less time on things that were unimportant to her. She began taking better care of herself, exercising regularly, and spending more time with the friends she really respected, and she also returned to photography, a long-lost love. To her surprise, taking time out of her busy life to meditate was helping her find more time and better ways to enjoy it. She was doing more of what mattered most to her, but accomplishing more was not the source of her happiness; it was the result of it. Deborah’s newfound joy had nothing to do with achievement. Her life had changed thanks to her experiencing a greater measure of Contentment.
It’s not very difficult to find a temporary solution to the things that trouble you. From virtual shopping malls to the latest gossip magazines, you have countless diversions at your disposal. Any of them can gratify your fleeting wants, none of them will ever fulfill your needs, the deeper longings that your soul is prompting you to fulfill. That deeper need is your soul’s fourth desire, moksha, the desire for freedom/liberation. Contentment is the only thing that can provide it.
By starting and maintaining a regular meditation practice, Deborah found that she did not need to change her outer circumstances to experience fulfillment, the change she needed to make was internal. She needed to experience the Contentment that was always there, within her, available to her if she could connect to it. But in order to experience Contentment, she did need to make one external Adjustment: she needed to consistently set aside the time to meditate.
Deborah’s former malaise was a symptom, an indication of her need for the elixir of Contentment, something her exciting, busy, and materially abundant life was unable to provide. Deborah is a case in point that to the degree that we lack Contentment, even a life teeming with worldly riches and gratifications can be insufficiently fulfilling or meaningful. Precisely because she had become “ensnared” in her “world of change,” Deborah fell prey to a mild kind of “helplessness.” Meditation trained her mind to become steady enough to see past it to “the Source of Life in all its glory” and to recognize that the inner joy, the joy she had been searching for, is always present. Through meditation, Deborah learned to create the conditions necessary to experience it.