This week's installment of the Yoga Living Project is brough to you by Caleb Hall in the spirit of non attachment and contentment. Catch his class on Sundays 10:30a or Monday 7:15p, both at Cambio Pikes Peak!
Malas and the Practice of Santosha by Caleb Hall
I thread the string through another bead. Eyes furrowed and jaw clenched, I create another slip knot—attempting to get the bead secured snug beside the previous. My fingers slip off the string, and the knot tightens half an inch away from the bead. My ego shouts,”Give up!” Yet, I undo the knot and try again.
I have thought about creating a mala with the knotting technique for a long time, but I always talked myself out of it. If you are unfamiliar, a mala is traditionally a beaded necklace containing 108 beads, an additional larger bead (called a Guru bead), and a tassel or some form of knot at the end. These necklaces are used in meditation to keep count while practicing mantra repetition. They can be made of many different materials like stone, wood, or Boddhi (rudraksha) seeds. In between each bead is a knot to space the bead to assist with counting while eyes are closed.
I am a type of person who can get anxious when working on small things that require a lot of patience and meticulous dexterity. You should see me trying to thread a needle! Yet, I decided recently that it was time to teach myself how to make a mala necklace with knotting the beads. I knew the practice was its own form of meditation. With new found determination, I set down to the task to grow my patience. However, what I ended up discovering is the power of Santosha and Aparigraha.
How did I get from patience to sudden contemplations about a Yama and Niyama? Well, here is some context. I teach yoga to high school students and for the past two weeks we have been learning about Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. We spent one week respectively on both the Yamas and Niyamas. I have asked them to practice one Yama and Niyama at home and outside of class to stretch their understanding—hoping that they will see how these teachings apply to all areas of our life. In fairness, I have also been doing the homework with them.
This week, I decided I would focus on Santosha, or contentment. When Patanjali writes of Santosha in the Yoga Sutra 2. 42, he states, “Through contentment ultimate happiness is achieved.” From this teaching, we are guided towards accepting things as they are. This often asks us to practice Aparigraha, or “non-attachment,” to how we think things should be or what we expect the outcomes to be.
When I began stringing the beads, I had no intention of connecting the practice to Santosha and Aparigraha. However, as I set to the task, each mistake in a knot taught me a lesson. At first, it was hard to get the string to manipulate into the position. Every time I had to restart again, I made a new discovery in the technique. After at least 108 different knots, I was reminded of the importance of letting myself fail. I realized that each mistake could easily be redone. If it could not, it was going to be ok, and I could try again next bead.
Looking at my finished necklace, I am reminded of the acceptance and non-attachment that it took to complete. I see the errors—the knots that are not as tight as others and the places where I made a mistake. Yet, I do not let those take away from the peace of knowing through the mistakes I still pushed on. It would have been easy to ball up the thing and stuff it away out of frustration. With my focus on contentment and non-attachment, I see those places as a point in the journey where I grew through the discomfort. In my acceptance, I showed myself compassion for the mistake. In my non-attachment, I could be free of the pressure to achieve a perfect mala.
Through accepting things as they are without attachment, we find that we are able to offer more freedom to ourselves and everything around us. When we grip so tightly on the expectation of a perfect outcome, we do not allow growth to happen along the way. We experience a mistake and blame ourself or something else; therefore, missing the opportunity to see the growth in the challenge. There is a beauty in accepting the imperfections as they are. To me, that allows for one of the most beautiful things to flourish: freedom.