Facing Loneliness With Contentment
Spiritually evolved people are those who are happy with or without others. Yoga teacher Gilda Giannoni tells how it is possible to bear solitude practicing the yogic principle of Santosha, contentment.
There is a solitude of space,
A solitude of sea,
A solitude of death,
but these Society shall be,
Compared with that profounder site,
That polar privacy,
A Soul admitted to Itself: Finite Infinity.
Solitude has always been a profound issue for philosophers and spiritual seek-ers. One of the highest conquests a person can achieve on a spiritual path is a full understanding that a human being is ultimately alone, and consequently, to develop the ability to face this loneliness without despair. ‘To live alone one must be either a beast or a God’ Aristotle said. It’s really a matter of extremes. Someone who’s very much depressed or profoundly misanthropic would rather live alone than mix with anybody else. In both cases, loneliness is usually a way to escape from society and to avoid direct comparison with others.
On the other hand, a person who has come to a deep knowledge of himself and of human nature is absolutely comfortable in his loneliness. Spiritually evolved people are those who are happy with or without others; they are more or less at ease in every situation, and they accept their solitude while still being ok with meeting other people as well. The point is that they don’t need. Need what? They neither need to escape nor to have company. They’re satisfied. Always. They have fully realized the yogic principle of Santosha, contentment.
It might sound too simplistic to claim that just by following Santosha one can bear loneliness. Yet Santosa is a path, one that can teach us much more than what we usually think. Contentment is something one can exercise, like any other mental faculty. And, as happens with all mental faculties, when skill begins to improve, the focus on which it is exercised can grow wider and wider. Swami Yogananada used to say something similar about willpower: start exercising your willpower on very small and humble targets, trying simply to fulfill what you desire. As your initial goals are not that difficult to achieve, you will succeed, your self-esteem and determination will grow, and then, you will be able to aim for something harder, or bigger. If you start by being content with modest achievements, you will find yourself doing things you would have never thought possible before.
So, how can we practice contentment to the point of reaching the state of being content with ourselves? Let’s start with some small things. My guru in India, Swami Maheshananda from Lonavla, used to say that we are not really able to use three common and simple words in our daily life: no, stop, and enough. We know we shouldn’t accept an invitation to go out, when we were determined to do something else, but instead, we say ok. We know a third piece of cake wouldn’t be good for our stomach, but still we take it. We know we have had enough of an insane relationship, but we still go on. All these acceptances are in fact renunciations: we renounce our determination and willpower, our health, our happiness, our own dignity. Often, accepting an immediate pleasure reveals itself ultimately to cause a deeper frustration and results in lower self-esteem. Without self-esteem it is impossible to live peacefully, both alone as well as with others, because in both cases our predominant feelings and actions are driven by negative subconscious mantras like ‘I am missing something’, ‘I am inadequate’, ‘I am not good enough’. The point, then, is to reinforce determination, will power, health and dignity. Happiness will then arrive as a consequence.
This symbolic asana sequence can be useful on the path to improve the qualities we need to be happy:
– Virabhadra-asana II, warrior pose II. The solid base of the legs, the chest open with courage, and the gaze focused on the fingers, make this posture an excellent exercise to increase determination.
– Garuda-asana, eagle pose. The eagle is both in the world and above the world. It’s the symbol of detachment, as it is able to look out over every-thing from above. At the same time, an eagle can dive down into worldly life whenever it wants to achieve the goal it has in mind. The eagle is clear in its intention and it’s able to achieve it with an incredible precision. Feel your will-power in this posture, which is a preparation to fly, like a spring ready to be re-leased.
– Vrksasana with bija-mantra HAM, tree pose. The tree in Jungian symbolism is representative of the self. It depicts the growth of a person, their capability to stand on their own legs, and the profound introspection of the parents. It’s a posture that claims dignity and self-affirmation. HAM is the bija mantra for the vishuddha-chakra, the throat chakra. When the yogin is able to open this chakra, he is fond of himself, sure about who he is, what he says and what he wants. He feels that he simply is.
– Ardha mastyendra-asana, spine twisting. In ancient texts, this pose is described as incredibly effective for increasing digestive power and ‘destroying terrible diseases’ (Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, I.27). Certainly, health is empowered with this posture. It’s not by chance that this asana was given the name of the very first yogin, Matsyendra. Many important twisting asanas are named after sages. That’s because of their ability to look at all sides, to look at past, present and future, to be at ease with the masculine and feminine aspects within themselves. All this is clear when you assume the position—the back is twisted but upright, the gaze is proud, and a feeling of happiness for who and what you are comes over you.
– Concentration on strong points – Relax in a comfortable, meditative position. Breathe slowly, and practice some ujjayi breathing, slow and deep breathing. When you feel that your mind has calmed down, begin thinking about your strong points. Start with the physical ones. Think about what your body allows you to do, what kind of strength it has. Then go on to your mental strong points, and finally, to your the spiritual ones. Don’t judge, and don’t let the flow of thoughts deviate from your target. Just analyze one point, considering what it allows you to do, the advantages it gives you, and how you have used it in the past or the present, or how you can use it in the future. Then think of another strong point. When you think you’ve finished, review them all in your mind again, and then realize how they allow you to survive and to build your dignity in this life.
When a person is fully aware of whom he is, of his strengths and his ability to survive, when he’s able to attest to his own dignity in life, then he will be fully content with himself. With this contentment, he can find a wise way of living between being happily alone and staying pleasantly with others, a righteous ‘phil-ia’ or friendliness, as Aristotle would have explained in his concept of The Golden Mean, the perfect middle way.
About the author: Gilda Giannoni has been practising yoga since 1992 and teaching since 1999. She founded her school YogaMarga in Verona in 2005 and since then she has been involved in several Teacher Training Courses, conferences and seminars in Verona and other cities in Italy.
She holds a degree in Philosophy (Pisa University, Italy), several certifications as a Yoga Teacher (Italy and India) and a post-graduate degree in Yoga Therapy (S-Vyasa Yoga University, Bangalore, India).
She has written articles for an italian yoga journal and her book, ‘Yoga, dall’Armonia alla Gioia’, was published in 2012.