A surprisingly perfect moment
It was the first night of our first family vacation in years. We were at dinner – in the back room of a very crowded, very loud restaurant in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. This was not the restaurant that had been recommended. It was also not our second choice. In fact, we’d wound up there simply because there was no room at any other restaurant in the village.
As we walked in, we passed a sign on the front door saying that they were short staffed and asking for patience. Therefore, it was not surprising that we were without food or beverage – and had been for some time. What was surprising was how OK – how perfect even – it felt.
Someone had said something funny, and we were all laughing. Mid-giggle, I looked around at my family and felt a flush of feeling, a swelling in my chest, and a fullness. “This.” I thought. “This is everything I wanted. This is perfectly perfect.”
Contentment in any and every situation
This glowing moment of mine is an example of contentment as taught by yogis, mystics, and saints. The ancient yogis teach contentment as a practice – something we do rather than something we achieve. St. Paul shares this same idea with the Philippians (4:12) when he writes “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
While I was neither ill nor imprisoned as Paul was, I was really tired after a long drive in a continuous snowstorm. I was a little lost in a strange place where I did not speak the language. I was with a group of people who had been teetering – justifiably – on the edge of “hangry” for a few hours. Yet, in that moment, I was content. I was so content I felt like I was glowing.
The key to contentment is staying in the moment
And that’s the key to a practice of contentment – staying in the moment. Sometimes, as we practice, we hold ourselves there – resisting our very human urge to look ahead to the next moment (and the next and the next). And sometimes, as in my case, the moment holds us. I feel like it is important to point out that one technique is not better or more effective than the other.
Both techniques require mindfulness. In the first, we notice that we’re thinking about what might happen next, what would make us happy, how this moment could be better. In the second, we notice that we are content and, by resisting the urge to do or think anything to “improve it,” we soak it in.
Humans have been dashing off into the future for millennia
As easy as it could be to blame social media for our pressing urge for “better,” “happier,” “less messy,” “more perfect,” “Instagram-able” moments, this urge has been around a lot longer than Instagram. After all, the ancient yogis must have noticed similar impulses in themselves 2,500 years ago or they would not have included a practice of contentment in their 8-point plan to living a fulfilling and free life.
We seem to be somewhat hardwired to chase after the illusion that the future is somehow more desirable than the present. This is the double-edged sword of our incredible capacity to imagine, to dream, to set goals – all of which are capacities that allow us to grow, change, and become. In short, looking ahead is good.
Happiness and contentment are right here along the way
The yogis, mystics, and saints are not telling us to stop looking ahead. They are encouraging us not to allow looking ahead to distract us from our lives right now. Because happiness and contentment are not around the corner in some imaginary future. They are right here. They are right now. Right smack in the middle of each messy, hangry, loud, less-than-perfect, hilarious moment along the way.
Yoga and meditation are two practices that help us get more comfortable with the lifelong balancing act of staying in the moment.