It’s January, the time of year when many people throw themselves full force into a new routine, only to burn out on it by Valentine’s Day. This doesn’t just happen over the new year; we’ve all been so excited with something that we overdo it. Two weeks later we’re over it. Why is this?
We can overdo literally anything. We can breathe so much that our CO2 levels drop, constricting blood flow to the brain, and we pass out. People have died from water intoxication, which is drinking too much water.
Every action contains the seed of its own overdoing. It’s why we should never let one idea reign supreme in our life. The example I use in my training involves two ideas from the Yoga Sutras, santosha and tapas.
Unlike a delicious Spanish dish, the Sanskrit tapas means a zeal for practice. When we are really enthused about something, we embody tapas, which is a good thing. But if this idea were taken as one’s only mantra (like many Type A personalities are prone to do), tapas leads to overdoing anything and everything.
This is why Patañjali, the author of the sutras, placed santosha before tapas. Santosha means contentment. Developing contentment means we can pump the brakes on enthusiasm before it turns into overdoing.
Asking ourselves if we are content is critical to not burning out. What we are really asking is, what is making us discontented? The reason people throw themselves into anything to the point of burnout is because they want to change something. According to the Yoga Sutras, we need to put the kibosh on that impulse.
What does it mean to be content? To fully acknowledge our inner and outer states of being, and our place in the world. When we acknowledge the truth, we can make better decisions on how to improve. We avoid acting from impulse, and instead use our reasoning.
Contentment puts zeal to good use. We’re not avoiding reality, we are actually trying to improve reality. To quote an Avett Brothers lyric: “When you run make sure you run / To something and not away from.”
Just remember that you can overdo contentment as well, because you can overdo literally anything. Anything.