Directing Attention to Contentment

Ajahn Pasanno

Directing Attention to Contentment

The theme of contentment is a good theme for all of us - the aspect of learning how to be content with both the circumstances around us as well as our own mind.

Sometimes the agitation, restlessness, negativity and fault-finding that the mind cranks out is not so much about any big thing that’s happening outside, it is almost invariably a lack of contentment internally. When the mind is internally unable to find contentment, externally it finds something to be excited about, upset about, agitated about, or have an opinion about. And it’s usually really believable! We come up with the logic, all of the good reasons to justify our state - and there’s plenty of good reasons if we look for them. But oftentimes what’s overlooked is the question: “Why can’t I be content with this present moment, with this circumstance, with my mind and feelings as they are?”

This is a really important investigation. It’s a fundamental basis for progress in practice. Until we learn how to direct our attention in that way, we’re almost always driven by discontent and end up being caught in some sort of sensual fantasy or internal rant or something that at least takes us out of the present moment. The challenge is to be able to draw attention and investigate: “how can I be content with this present moment, with myself?”

When the Buddha talked about being a refuge onto oneself and taking Dhamma as a refuge, he didn’t mean that one takes refuge in the Dhamma of discontent. It’s the Dhamma of contentment, the ability to not be pulled away from the present moment that he focuses on. This is absolutely essential when we’re talking about meditation. The ability to be content with the breath or content with one’s meditation object; this is an essential factor for the mind becoming settled, peaceful and still.

These aspects of investigation around contentment are very important. In the Suttas the Buddha describes contentment as one of the characteristics of a great being. It’s also the characteristic of a noble one, an Aryan. Being content with one’s robes, almsfood, lodging, and with one’s cultivation, one’s meditation.

When one develops this contentment, one doesn’t lift oneself up nor put down others. This is a distinguishing characteristic of somebody who has actually experienced Dhamma and takes Dhamma as refuge. There’s no need to lift oneself up and put down others, to compare.

This aspect of contentment is a fruitful area for investigation. We can experiment with it and find ways to draw our hearts closer to that quality.