“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”

Benjamin Franklin

One of my earliest memories of philosophy through this practice was imparted by one of my teachers and came from the Zen tradition. I remember the yoga pose I was in when it landed: wide-legged forward fold (aka in Sanskrit, Prasarita Padottanasana). Funny how some things remain crystal clear in the memory banks. The message was this:

You cannot successfully effect change until you are settled with where you are right now.

As in all philosophies offered, I did not simply believe this powerful statement; I set out to see if it was true. It proved to be so and I have come back to it time and again, just as I have with the wide-legged forward fold…

This notion of being settled before creating or effecting change goes against the usual grain of motivation and goal-setting in the way we have been “Westernized”. For example, consider my friend, “Dave” who has a discontent with his lack of financial success. He looks left and right in comparison with his friends and measures his trappings against others and always comes up short. This makes him frustrated, angry, disappointed and ashamed especially because he works just as hard if not harder than his peers.  So Dave, out of a sense of lack, sets out to fix his problem and get more money. He struggles miserably to work more hours all the while setting his sights on the future goal of changing his financial status.

Dave is miserable.

What can we offer Dave to help him feel better about his situation? Well, what I have learned is to relax with what I have. Right now; not in the future, as though this will be the only set of circumstances available-ever. And when I can totally relax with what is, then and only then, can I begin to move toward making a difference.  Perhaps Dave might notice that he is perfectly fine with his lifestyle until the moment he starts comparing it to others! The key for Dave is to embrace and appreciate where he is, relax with it and then, if still motivated from the inside, make efforts to optimize his circumstance.

By doing things this way, we move not from a sense of lack and disparity, but from a centered place of being settled. The progression then is from a great place to a potentially even greater place. Or if the effort fails, well, it’s ok, because we are settled with what is, right now.

This is not one of the easier philosophies to work with (for me anyway). It’s definitely a work in progress and that’s why I am always so happy that we call yoga a practice.

It’s only when we really, really accept the way things are that we can be truly happy; not in the way of settling for what is or tolerating what is, but being receptive and allowing for what is. And so it follows, when we accept how we are and how the world around us is showing up, we can be nothing but happy!

“Discontent is something that follows ambition like a shadow.”

– Henry H. Haskins