Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. His ability to find contentment and meaning throughout those years prepared him to come to power in his seventies and transform a nation.
We are all in our private prison, contained within the four walls of our private karma, the central meaning of our life. The limitations imposed by our deepest challenges may prevent us from experiencing joy, safety, freedom and love. Our private prison, like Mandela’s prison, may severely limit our fulfillment through the most fruitful years of our lives.
We may find ourselves caught in swirls of sorrow, doubt, depression and deep self-pity. These are all necessary encounters, reminders of the transpersonal spirit that seeks to fly freely beyond the prison walls of our discontent. Our deepest sorrow is the song of the bird of freedom that beckons us to sing its tune.
When we recapitulate, we squarely face our karmic fixation. What happened in life that separated us from our spirit, that sent us into the desert of our discontent? Reliving, recollecting, and reprocessing the experiences of our lives ultimately releases us to the freedom of our spirit’s fulfillment. And this process, like Mandela’s, might take decades; no easy road to freedom.
But we needn’t attach to the outcome of our recapitulation process. Instead, we can focus on contentment in this moment, in every moment, through the breath. Buddhist meditation uses the breath. Yogic meditation uses the breath. Shamanic recapitulation uses the breath.
Simply focus awareness on the breath in this moment. Passively observe it without interference. Direct it at will. Gently deepen it. Focus it on the throat, on the solar plexus, on the perineum, on the big toe!
Count, to rhythmically align with the breath. Hold the breath; release it. Bring it to the tensest part of the body and allow it to gently penetrate and soften. Breathe rapidly if that feels right, fully releasing energy that has long been held in. Or breathe ever so softly, with loving tenderness.
Placing awareness on the in-breath, on the inhalation of air—prana/life force/spirit—allows it to fill the body with its energy and vibration. Releasing the old stuck energies deeply stored in the body as we exhale brings contentment to each moment of our lives. The more we breathe with awareness, the deeper we breathe with awareness, the more we realize our deepest intent—to advance our spirit beyond its karmic containment into new life, full of contentment!
As Bob Marley sings in Redemption Song: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.
Wandering through the backyard early in the morning, I pick a handful of blackcaps. Their sweetness on my tongue brings me back to warm spring days gone by, and yet, I do not reminisce with longing, for I am in the moment. I savor this spring day, these luscious berries, this moment. Indeed, I am thankful for all the other times I have tasted these wild fruits from the earth, and it is enough to be here now, today, having this experience. I am content.
Perhaps moments of contentment are fleeting, as thoughts and worries soon intrude, as the world and all that is so wrong returns to awareness, as inner issues arise and grip. And yet, as I walk in the morning dew, I pull myself back to the experience of now. I discipline myself to stay in the moment. What am I experiencing?
I allow my sensations to be fully present. I listen. I hear the calls and songs of many birds. I hear a truck passing on the road below. I hear the rustling of leaves in the trees. I even hear a heavy drop of fruit from the ornamental cherry tree nearby. I am in the moment. I let everything else go, all the busy thoughts and stresses, knowing they won’t change, they will still be there, but fully aware that these moments of sensation, of being alive now, are changing rapidly.
I look around me. I see clouds moving in. I see a blue jay swoop into the catalpa tree. I see a mosquito. I peer into the prickly blackcap bushes, notice the spiky thorns as I pick around them, careful to not get scratched. I notice just how full the bushes are, how many berries ripening on the branches this year. I let my eyes gaze into the yard, taking in what is in sight, the play of shadows and light, letting my eyes and my awareness be in the moment.
I smell the sweetness in the air. The scent of floral and fruit that only comes on days like this, before the field across the road is cut. I smell the new mown grass in the yard, the dew dampened stones beneath my feet, the scent of earth. In this moment I am still. I am fully present, breathing, alive in the moment.
I feel the air against my skin. I feel the quiet of my heart, the stillness of the moment inside and outside as I stand in my environment, aware that I am nothing, just a small part of all of this. Some other creature is watching me, smelling me, hearing me, feeling me. I am content being part of this world at this moment.
“Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall,” writes Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. In fact, it is only to a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all.”
Contentment is being aware. Contentment is being okay with everything the way it is. Contentment is letting go to the energy of the moment, staying in balance, no matter what is going on outside of us or inside. Even while standing in the midst of storm and trial, moments of contentment may be reached. This contentment comes in knowing that this moment too is important, that this moment in life, no matter how difficult, untenable, or frightening, offers something meaningful.
Contentment is staying mindfully present, breathing deeply, aware that this is the moment I am in right now. Can I bear the tension of it? Can I let myself just be in it? Can I let myself discover what it is I must learn right now? Perhaps I learn that I am getting good at remaining calm through a storm, whether an inner or an outer storm. Perhaps I discover that I am not really as attached to things that once held me in their grip, that I am evolving into a different person, contented to be moving on now. Can I let myself move on? Can I be content in knowing that I am changing? Can I let myself change and be okay with it? This too is experiencing contentment.
No matter who I am, where I am, or what I am facing, there are moments of contentment. I must stop, breathe, and accept this moment in my life and be content in what it offers me. I must be truthful with myself, totally honest and open to change. For it is only in accepting change, in myself and others, that I will grow with contentment.
In this moment, as I lift my hand to my mouth and taste the sweetness of the berries in my hand, I experience peaceful contentment. However, brief, I taste it. Mindful contentment is quiet, calm, connected to the energy of the earth, of the sun, stars, and the moon, because it is the energy of being alive in the moment. In this moment of contentment everything is perfect. And when I experience such perfection, I experience nothingness and then the great doorway to infinity opens and countless moments of calm explode.
I let myself experience infinity by constantly bringing myself back to the moment of now, over and over again throughout the day. Building on my experiences, small stepping-stones at first, I am eventually leaping onto boulders of contentment, calmly accepting everything that comes my way. I stay in balance, knowing that this too is right, this is the moment I am in, and I choose to remain aware of its significance. I am mindful of everything, meditating my way through my daily life, constantly bringing myself back to awareness of the moment.
I am not placid and inactive, but fully engaged. I am proactively present, knowing that what I choose to do or express next is important, aware that what I choose to focus on, think, allow, is important—extremely important. My choices affect everything in my environment. If I stand in my yard and make noise, if I intrude on nature, nature will react to my intrusion. If I elect to be in alignment, in balance with my environment, it will react by being in balance with me. If I base my awareness on being present in this moment, appropriately present, I move through life in mindful contentment.
I decide to let life unfold, accepting it, making my choices based on what comes to me, because I know that I cannot stop life. It intends to live. I make the choice to live as well, to go into the next moment fully present and aware.
Life is always changing. Can I? This is where I experience contentment, in knowing that, yes, I am finally ready to keep changing too, making choices that allow me to grow and change. Life is contentment in action. Live it.