Yoga for Climate Action: Santosha

I can decide what I give
But it’s not up to me what I get given
Unthinkable surprises about to happen
But what they are…
It’s not up to you
Well it never really was



Is it weird to have a favorite niyama? And is my feeling for it based partly on the prettiness of the word, also a beautiful boy’s name? Santosha means contentment. The contentment it describes is what arises from accepting things as they are rather than as you would wish them to be. It’s the internal state that reflects the external practices of satya (truthfulness- not deceiving yourself or others) and aparigraha (non-grasping- not coveting or wishing for more or less than you have). When we’ve done the work to be less prey to craving and aversion, we experience satisfaction and calm. A kind of peace settles around the word in my mind.

Santosha is often framed in aescetic terms, being happy with little or nothing, but I believe it also contains a positive attitude toward pleasure. Enjoy your pleasure. When pleasure is your experience, savor it and let it go when it’s over. When suffering is your experience, be fully present for it also. Santosha isn’t a commandment to endure suffering either, but to understand that it’s equally a part of your life, changing, impermanent, but experientially real.

I wrote about the false paradox of accepting change vs. climate change before, but to elaborate a little differently here I’ll say that santosha -acknowledging what is- is the basis for action, rather than reaction. Santosha has nothing to do with accepting injustice or mistreatment, or performing martyrdom.

In activist work it’s the reminder that you have the right to the labor but not to the fruit. We put one foot in front of the other, often stopping to make bridges by hand, slowing down or speeding up to walk with others. It helps a lot to enjoy parts of the process, not just dreams of the outcome. And it ultimately helps more to be accepting in the face of unpredictable outcomes, or the opposite of what you were working for. If the whole point was the one outcome, what a crushing blow you may receive. If instead you fully experience the daily pleasures and discomforts, and continually acknowledge the uncertainty of your enterprise, then it’s a lot more natural to take the next step after a loss. Or a win. And to do it with unruffled peace. For the hundredth time.

Or to put it more elegantly:

UPDATE: My cousin Cat thought it would also be appropriate to include the Serenity Prayer, and I agree. And I think it would be equally appropriate in discussion of Svadyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana. When I looked the prayer up to post it I found that it’s longer than what I’m familiar with. And although I don’t believe in an afterlife, the traditional concept of sin, or a masculine willful god-guy, and I don’t think those are useful frameworks within which to govern behavior in the here-and-now, there was some lovely stuff in the unfamiliar passage. See below:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.



  1. Catherine Steele

    Yo, Josephine — scroll to the bottom where you left off “to put it more elegantly” and read my insert. Its often called the serenity prayer. In an efficient ecomomy of words, the message tells me to be fully and mindfully present to who, how and where I am in the universe. Love Cat.

  2. Pingback: Yoga of Climate Action: Yama and Niyama | grandgather

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