Thursday, May 28, 2009

Contentment

What is it?
How do I know when I am content?
What steals my contentment?

These are some questions I’ve been wrestling with lately. I’m not going to attempt to find the absolute answers for these questions, assuming that they exist. The definition of contentment doesn't even seem to be absolute; and obviously the answers to the other two questions will be relative as well.

I found the following definitions on the web:
a. happiness with one's situation in life
b. Contentment refers to the neuro-physiological experience of satisfaction and being at ease in one's situation, body and mind (John Money via Wikipedia)
c. A state of mind in which one's desires are confined to his lot whatever it may be (1 Tim. 6:6; 2 Cor. 9:8) New King James Version
d. More than a passive state of mind. It is a virtue to be actively cultivated in order to free the mind from the effects of pleasure and pain (yogaconcepts.com)
e. A quality or state of being (Webster)

1 Timothy 6:6-7 (Amplified Bible)6 [And it is, indeed, a source of immense profit, for] godliness accompanied with contentment (that contentment which is a sense of [a]inward sufficiency) is great and abundant gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and obviously we cannot take anything out of the world.

I looked up the above verse in every translation, thanks to Biblegateway.com and I felt the Amplified version gave the best, most expansive rendition. Many people have heard this verse said as the NIV puts it: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” The key here for me was reading “inward sufficiency”. This is exactly what I have been pondering. My state of contentment or lack thereof is directly related and reflective of my inward condition. That be, my mind, emotions, heart, soul, etc. All these things are connected to one another. The end goal here is to reach that state of peace and contentment regardless of my outward circumstances.

Some of my outward circumstances that I have to put in their rightful place as just that, circumstances, or experiences and not set in my mind as definitions of character, are: (I’m being completely transparent here)
a. my divorce
b. my financial status and/or material things
c. my vocational status (title, rank, salary, etc)
d. my educational status

These are some of the things that I unknowingly and subconsciously allow myself to identify with in negative or positive ways. As if these things define who I actually am or make up my character. They do not. Obviously, who I am will determine the status of many outward circumstances, but let’s face it, we can’t control other people, events that take place that affect us, our family and origin of birth, our heritage, etc. These things all exist without giving us a choice in the matter. What I can control, however, is my reaction to them.

I actually really liked the definition of contentment from the yoga website when it says, “More than a passive state of mind. It is a virtue to be actively cultivated…

I think this definition shows how clearly contentment is something that is cultivated and must be actively pursued. I do think that obtaining contentment would free oneself from the crippling effects of negative outward circumstances or events. Does being content mean that I can’t or shouldn’t have an emotional reaction to positive and negative happenings in my life? I don’t think so…I think it just means these circumstances are not allowed to alter the core of what identifies me in this life or my foundation. And who would want them to? I liken this to riding an emotional rollercoaster never knowing when or if the next high and low was coming. Part of being codependent is allowing other people and circumstances to affect my happiness to a point where I’m no longer actively choosing or aware for myself of how I really feel or why I feel that way. I think this is an easy trap to fall into especially in relationships with spouses, children, boss’s, co-workers, etc. People that daily are a part of our lives and their state of being have an effect on ours, but to what extent? This is the question I have to deal with everyday in my job and in my family and personal relationships. Many times I have to ask myself, “is this something I am really upset, happy, disgusted, indifferent, etc. about or am I allowing myself to identify with someone else’s state of being because I either don’t value my own feelings, thoughts, opinions, or I see another’s as more important than mine, or I have no idea how I feel so it’s easier to associate with someone else’s.” Honest answers to these questions will tell me whether or not I am walking in emotional/mental/spiritual health.

So, contentment for me is peace throughout. And when something negative happens in my life I can accept it for what it is, deal honestly with it and move on or through it not allowing it to cripple me, hinder my thought process or work and try to immediately find some positive in it. If there is no positive in the situation, I will try to write out a list of all the other things I can be grateful for in my life. Doing this has helped me keep a healthier emotional balance, so that I do not allow the emotional scales to be tipped unevenly and I can maintain a peace of mind.

I have many more thoughts on the subject, but for now….contentment is the goal.

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