A Context for Contentment

by Christopher Lovejoy on April 29, 2012

My friend didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit.

He didn’t like that I was speaking so positively about contentment.

“Complacency is death,” he intoned.

I sensed that he meant well. However …

“Contentment is not complacency,” I replied thoughtfully.

This exchange occurred some years ago, when we attended the same university.

By this time, I had not yet read the Tao Te Ching, but had started reading a delightful book called The Tao of Pooh, both of which eventually informed my notion of contentment.

Today, with so much to say and so much to do as we collectively make a transition from old to new, contentment might look and feel more and more like complacency with each passing day.

As I’ve grown and matured in my ways, I’ve come to view my relationship with contentment more as a series of opportunities than a beautiful, steady love affair with the Tao.

I must admit, however, that there have been times in my life when contentment was a most loyal companion whose prospects of continuity seemed quite assured in perpetuity.

Soulful Urges, Spiritual Impulses

The human body produces urges and generates impulses that require constant attention. It’s the price we pay for having a body replete with chemical constituents and microbial lifeforms.

Where urges persist until satisfaction, impulses are fleeting.

Where impulses are quick to manifest, like the impulse to yawn, urges are slow to emerge, and can be quite persistent, like the relentless, sometimes annoying, urge to urinate or defecate.

Another example: the erotic impulse is quite unlike the sexual urge. The impulse to kiss, touch, or caress with erotic intent, for example, is quite unlike the sexual urge to rub, squeeze, or stroke.

Where necessary or appropriate, many of us have learned to sublimate these urges and impulses.

We normally conceal them in everyday discourse; we rarely if ever bring them up as topics for conversation, and when we do, we do so in a spirit of levity, or with impatience or ridicule.

Where the body is concerned, we satisfy the urge or we follow the impulse, when necessary or where appropriate, integrating them as seamlessly as possible into the days of our lives.

A fruitful discussion about the value of contentment becomes possible when we draw a clear distinction between (a) bodily urges and impulses, and (b) urges of the soul and impulses of the spirit.

Our bodies produce continual streams of urges to subsist homeostatically (e.g., to eat, to drink, to stay warm or cool), but our souls also produce urges to resist or persist.

Our bodies generate impulses to connect physically and emotionally (e.g., to touch, to hug, to hold), but our spirits also generate impulses to explore and express, contract and expand.

A bodily urge to sit or lie down is quite unlike a soulful urge to rest or relax; likewise, a bodily impulse to run or jump is quite unlike a spiritual impulse to rise and soar (figuratively speaking).

For the remainder of this post, I’ll be exploring the possibilities of contentment, and when I speak of urges and impulses, I’ll be speaking of soulful urges and spiritual impulses.

Is Contentment Even Possible?

As soul goes hand in glove with spirit, contentment goes hand in glove with upliftment.

If your spirit is not feeling particularly uplifted, your soul won’t be feeling all that content, and if your soul is not feeling all that content, then your spirit won’t be feeling particularly uplifted.

Ideally, soul and spirit complement each other harmoniously. When the spirit romances the soul, or vice versa, urges are more easily satisfied, impulses more easily followed.

We’re multi-dimensional beings. We operate on as many as thirteen levels, many of which overlap.

We engage each other and the world physically, sexually, emotionally, psychically, mentally, socially, morally, financially, romantically, intellectually, politically, religiously, and spiritually.

Unless you habitually suppress or repress your urges and impulses, you potentially have a lot of urges and impulses to negotiate and process, every waking moment of every single day.

In the absence of contentment and fulfillment – of unity and harmony – it’s not uncommon to hear some version of “it’s one d@#n thing after another” or “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

Perhaps you can relate.

If you can, then you know just how exhausting it can be at times.

With all of this multi-dimensional activity going on in our lives, is contentment even possible?

Or is it just a lovely pipe dream – a state of mind for retirees and convalescents only.

With a Nod to Balance, Where Do I Start?

Your achingly beautiful soul, by way of the almighty urge, will let you know when you need to say no, slow down, or keep going, and your pulsatingly vibrant spirit, by way of the almighty impulse, will let you know in no uncertain terms when you need to say yes, speed up, or go for broke.

Listen to these urges and impulses, pay attention to them, trust them, and do so with a view towards being here now, going with the flow, and keeping your balance between the two. To be sure, this perpetual balancing act requires awareness and perspective, both of which can be cultivated.

Whether your soul is feeling overwhelmed or your spirit is feeling underwhelmed, you always and forever have the option of starting wherever you are, right here, right now.

I invite you to run your gaze down this list.

Where are you …?

  • physically
  • sexually
  • emotionally
  • psychically
  • mentally
  • socially
  • morally
  • financially
  • romantically
  • intellectually
  • politically
  • religiously
  • spiritually

I trust that I can say the following …

One of these items on the list above is most strongly and persistently calling out to you for your attention. It pervades your entire being and it won’t stop nagging at your soul.

Which one is it?

Using this thought form – “…ly, I allow myself to …” – take a moment to connect with your soul and spirit, your urges and impulses, your longings and yearnings, your needs and desires.

Examples that resonate with me personally include …

Physically, I allow myself to cultivate habits of health that support my fitness to bring me vitality, while trusting and respecting my body like the temple that it is.

Sexually, I allow myself to explore, express, and enjoy the full extent of my sexuality in a way that honors mutual consent, in ways that feel good and right for me.

Emotionally, I allow myself to explore, express, and enjoy the full extent of my feelings, urges, impulses, longings, yearnings, needs, and desires throughout my life.

Psychically, I allow myself to tap into my intuition and my gift for claircognizance to guide me in every kind of situation, when and where necessary or appropriate.

Mentally, I allow myself to be an ongoing witness to my experience, to cultivate and appreciate the value of critical thinking in pursuit of truth without bias.

Socially, I allow myself to associate with those with whom I feel intimately connected, validated, and appreciated, whose values and interests are compatible with my own.

Morally, I allow myself to act without any intention of sacrifice, neither sacrificing my interests to the interests of others nor having others sacrifice their interests to mine.

Financially, I allow myself to secure some form of in-come that more than covers my expenses, being who I most love to be while feeling good about the in-come that I secure.

Romantically, I allow myself to keep my attention on the other, supporting the other where appropriate or necessary, and encouraging the other where possible or desirable.

Intellectually, I allow myself to pursue studies that absorb my interest, to enjoy intimate or stimulating conversation with those who share my love of truth, wisdom, and freedom.

Politically, I allow myself to be a party to the transition of power that is occurring all around the world towards a more liberated humanity, insisting on liberty before democracy.

Religiously, I allow myself to craft a path on my journey through life that would have me cultivate and cherish sacred encounters – alone in solitude or in the company of others.

Spiritually, I allow myself to evolve to a place where I can express, expand, and celebrate my vitality without losing or compromising any of these other vital facets of my life.

As you can see, it’s not easy being soulful and spiritual in human form, in a form that limits awareness of possibilities in any given moment or that limits expression to a series of moments.

We have many soulful urges and spiritual impulses vying for our attention; some will inevitably be bypassed (even suppressed) so that we can cope with their sheer quantity and complexity.

I would respectfully submit that suppressed urges become longings of the soul and that suppressed impulses become yearnings of the spirit. The longings and yearnings, in turn, become raw material for the perception of needs and desires, forming a basis for values and goals.

The area of your life that calls out to you most strongly and persistently is where you start to find the balance, but do you start with contentment (satisfy the urges) or fulfillment (follow the impulses)?

This, I think, depends on your personality type.

To restore balance, type A personalities would do well to focus on issues of quality and contentment, addressing the urges, longings, needs, intentions, and values of the soul.

To restore balance, type B personalities would do well to focus on issues of vitality and upliftment, addressing the impulses, yearnings, desires, expectations, and goals of the spirit.

Parting Thoughts

For those who desire a deeply fulfilling life, contentment can sometimes be elusive.

For me, it helps to know that contentment is but a piece of the entire story of my life – alongside the prospects of enjoyment, improvement, discernment, upliftment, and fulfillment.

Finding contentment (and by implication, fulfillment) in one area of my life has the effect of spilling over into other areas of my life, which in turn has the benefit of sustaining motivation to go further.

For example, if I’m feeling fulfilled financially, then I’m better positioned to be fulfilled romantically.

I might concentrate on just one area of my life at a time, allowing contentment in this area to seep into yet another aspect of my life in a bid to realize an ever evolving vision of personal fulfillment.

For the sake of my soul, I cultivate pockets of contentment whenever and wherever I can.

The energy of wholehearted contentment is peaceful and restful. When I dwell with presence within the heart of my soul, I invariably tap into this subtle, radiant energy.

I make a point of setting aside time and space for this radiance.

I make this energy a priority when I find or create an oasis of rest and refreshment in my day, a separate peace in the morning, afternoon, or evening that is ripe for contemplation.

I make this energy available when I …

  • correspond from the heart of my soul
  • involve myself in soulful conversations
  • read messages that inspire or enlighten
  • write words that leave me feeling satisfied
  • take aimless walks that refresh my senses
  • artfully explore, design, create, or perform

I cultivate this unassuming energy wisely and consistently, with heartfelt presence, so that my day can be my own, with a night of slumber that brings pleasant dreams.

I invite you to make your own list of activities that bring you contentment. While you’re at it, you might also wish to read some of these passages from the master of contentment himself.

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This post is the fourteenth in a series that began here.

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