I’ve always been a planner. When I was about 9 or 10, my sister Casey and sister-equivalent Nicole would plot out weekend days together, diligently recording our mutually negotiated schedule onto notebook paper thusly: From 10-11, we’ll draw pictures. From 11-12: play kickball. 12:00-1:30 we’ll play Hearts, followed by a quick round of Boggle. And at 1:30 we’ll be spontaneous and do whatever we feel like in the moment. (That’s right, we wrote “be spontaneous” on our weekend agendas as fifth graders. Imagine our wild popularity.)
I still value efficiency, and love to get things done. But I also love sucking the marrow out of life, and this is the part that too often gets crowded out by the things I have to do — or think I have to do.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband Jeremy and I went to Hawaii with a couple of dear friends. We jumped off a cliff into the ocean, got pummeled by waves, heard whales singing under our feet, and played on the beach at sunset.
But joy doesn’t have to look like it does in this photo: boisterous, exuberant, outward, very yang. It’s not necessarily exciting. In everyday life, the quieter, more yin version of joy often looks more like this:
Contentment. Peaceful. Luxuriating. Savoring. In Chinese Medicine, cultivating this relaxed, peaceful version of joy allows energy to flow freely. This free flow of qi is fundamental for the health of every system in the body. In the Yoga Sutras, contentment (santosha) is number 2 on the ethical code of conduct list (the niyamas): something to be practiced daily right after keeping yourself clean. Both of these traditions see contentment as an essential piece of health, well-being, and spiritual growth. It’s not something that necessarily just happens; it’s cultivated.
We cultivate contentment when we accept whatever is going on right now, and then take it a step further: not only grudgingly accept, but find something to deeply appreciate and embrace about what’s going on right now, even if external circumstances aren’t what you’d like them to be. It can be a tall order.
So your work schedule is laid out on your calendar. You know when you plan to hit the gym, and when your acupuncture appointment is. You make time to prepare healthy meals. Maybe you even carve out time for a daily practice of yoga, meditation, or qi gong.
But what about joy and contentment? Do you make time to savor a juicy stretch? To let a moment of eye contact with your partner open your heart? To taste a sip of tea? To soften judgement around whatever you think you need to be doing better? To accept yourself and What Is exactly as it is right now? Or is contentment the most important thing you’re leaving out of your healthy routine?
If you can take a few minutes and sink into letting everything be okay just as it is, it might even free up your schedule; it can make everything you think you “need to do” seem a little less urgent. This is way more important than drinking a green smoothie.
In addition to practicing contentment in the little moments throughout my day, I like to make sure my calendar has something on it that helps me tap into joy/contentment — as well as some time on Friday from 7-9 to “be spontaneous.” :)
(Handstands are part of my practice of joy.)
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