Cultivating the Habit of Contentment

Nothing improves one’s mood like getting into a grateful head space! Whether we’re thankful to a god, a bodhisattva, a saint or other people, the energy generated can be literally life-giving. In fact, I’m convinced it’s one of the secrets of a happy life.

A long time ago, I battled with depression. It was connected to my frequent headaches and my inability to figure out what was causing them—a good example of the oneness of body and mind. One of the many people who helped me through this period was my friend Dave; he was actually the one who introduced me to yoga and meditation. He saw that I’d gotten into a vicious cycle: I’d have serious, frequent headaches, which made me increasingly tense, which led to worse headaches. Among other things, Dave suggested that I “cultivate the habit of contentment.” That was a fairly opaque suggestion to me at the time; fortunately, he also suggested some very practical techniques! I learned my first asanas from him, along the Sanskrit mantra I would continue using for years (and still use today). I also learned to do Pranayama to regain a sense of balance. I still do that today as well. (Pranayama means “extension of the breath,” or life force. It’s an excellent way to find your center and relieve anxiety quickly.)

Along with the yoga postures, meditation techniques, and Pranayama, I did what I could to cultivate contentment. Over time, it worked! I started with realizing what an amazing gift it was that warm water cascaded over me first thing in the morning. Standing under the shower in the morning, I began thanking the Universe for providing that minor miracle. Years later, I would encounter this beautiful gatha from Thich Nhat Hahn, which perfectly expresses the feeling I had:

Water comes from high mountain sources.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us and sustains all life.
My heart is filled with gratitude.*

Next, I would eat breakfast mindfully, aware of the remarkable gift that was. Here’s a gatha that you may find useful before meals:

This food is the gift of the whole Universe–
The earth, the sky, and much hard work.
We accept this food to realize
The path of understanding and love.*

I would then go through the day, deliberately looking for things to be grateful for, and taking the time to nurture a deep sense of gratitude. It took awhile, but it really did work. Spending time daily on my yoga mat, meditating for twenty minutes twice a day, and cultivating the habit of contentment eventually helped me beat the headaches and the depression that had flowed from them. In a very real sense, yoga, meditation and holistic spirituality transformed and saved my life. Happy Thanksgiving!

All the best,

William K Ferro

* From The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn

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