It was my last day in Amsterdam; Very busy, cycling from south to west to central and back again when an open bridge forced me to stop and enjoy the moment. Engines from cars were switched off and there was silence. The sun broke through a blanket of heavy clouds when a lady on a bicycle stopped next to me with her music on stereo. For once it wasn’t hip hop or aggressive hard-core music which was disrupting the silence. While we were all calmly watching the boats pass and the bridge lower down again, Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose floated through the air. It reminded me of a story a good friend told me a few weeks back about contentment.
She was travelling with two friends who had different ideas of how to enjoy their day out. While she wanted to “make the most of” the town they were visiting and see all the museums and monuments, the friends were happy to relax in one place and enjoy the street artists on a square. My friend was silently eating herself up as she felt time slipping through her fingers and thought about the large sum of money she paid to come on this trip. But she didn’t want to have an argument with her friends or push them. The sun was shining, the atmosphere on the square was so relaxed and reminiscent of France, that she thought: I am going to be contented when they play a French chanson right now. And that’s when the street musicians started playing La Vie En Rose.
Even though she did not do all the things she wanted to do or see on that day, she gained a wonderful day with her friends, which was priceless.
Patanjali, the first person writing about yoga as we know it right now, wrote about the ‘Eight limbs of yoga’: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
The second limb, Niyama, has to do with self-discipline and duties. It consists out of five different parts, which are cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline or perseverance, study of the self and scriptures and lastly surrender to the Universal Consciousness. It’s this contentment, or Santosha, that people nowadays find very difficult.
We are constantly bombarded with images and stories of people who are supposedly more successful than we are; more beautiful, smarter, leaner, fitter or more creative. All we need to do is buy this product, do that program, get that new job, see this show, move to that city in order to get where they are. We make our life so difficult, when in fact, it can be so easy if you can find contentment in simple things. Because, if you cannot make your life successful as “they” define success, perhaps it’s time you find your own definition of success.
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Jon Jandai: Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?
In general, over the last few years I have been a very contented lady. I’m good in what I do, I do what I love, have good friends, a loving family and healthy relationship and am feeling at home in my skin. I don’t need much stuff and save up a lot of money by living quite a minimalist lifestyle. This gives me time to develop myself and do the things I love. But in the weeks just before that moment waiting for the ships to pass, I had a little bit too much time on my hands. I was in limbo; without a house, waiting to move to London, no assignments and not much to do other than wait. Going to museums everyday became a bit monotonous and I started scrolling through Facebook bored as a penguin. Then I started reading useless articles online. I started thinking I needed stuff I previously could do without (like a racing bike). I was getting obsessed with tweezing my eyebrows and the latest eyebrow makeup and techniques. And then I opened Pandora’s box: my old make-up drawer at my parent’s house. I thought my mother had gotten rid of it a long time ago, but she hadn’t. And my inner-crow started tingling from all that shiny and colourful make-up!
I got reminded at my adolescent period when I rocked thousands of different hairstyles and accessories, ranging from grunge to princess with the appropriate make-up and was bursting with insecurity. I had a full head of curls which ended up being relaxed. The relaxed hair got a perm again, after which it had to get relaxed again. It all depended on my mood. In between perming and relaxing I often went back to short hair, most of the time in a colour varying from hot pink to orange. You would think that all that relaxing, perming, bleaching and colouring would have fried my brain (and some would argue that has happened), but after a while I got to my senses again. I got the crazy hair out of the system and went back to my natural colour (sometimes with a weave to help with the length) and eventually my Indian roots; long wavy hair and the make-up that goes with that (none to light). I started realising that “I am not my hair […] I am the soul that lives within” (India.Arie).
Back to my parents’ bathroom mirror and my inner-crow. One evening I had a full face of make-up on. Most of my friends now would not have recognised me with the made up eyes and full red lips. I didn’t either. I washed it off, looked at myself and thought: that’s better. A fresh, clean face without any goo on it.
What happened? Why did I all of a sudden think I needed that stuff on my face, when I’ve been doing just fine all those years without? And why did I “need” that sparkly “new” vintage racing bike when my Golden Oldie did just fine?
It’s because that, during a short period of insecurity, I let myself go into that downward spiral of (social) media and get influenced by the messages telling me to buy this or that in order to feel better; all the Facebook posts of happy looking (photo-shopped) people made my crow go Gaw! And if you think that all yogis are non-attached, think again!! It’s very difficult to stay true to yourself when you are comparing yourself with others.
Fortunately, I realised quickly I didn’t need shiny new items to feel better. But more importantly, I realised I don’t need a mask in order to be a better person. La Vie En Rose, with all its insecurities and in all its complexity.