September’s theme, Tapas, is admittedly one of my favorite concepts from the Yoga Sutras. Tapas is a word that describes heat, commitment and discipline—that energized, fired-up feeling that enables us to approach a goal or endeavor with enthusiasm and stamina. It is associated with the third chakra, the seat of our personal will. It’s the part of ourselves that knows how to participate in the creation of our own future.
Though this all sounds exciting and even fun, it’s not uncommon to be challenged in the process of cultivating Tapas. For many of us, the experience of discipline can be fraught with feelings associated with being at the mercy of external control or expectations: doing things because we are coerced in some way by outside forces.
We may feel this version of discipline in our jobs, where at times feel compelled to do things in order to avoid the risk of being fired. At other times this external discipline shows up as a social force, compelling us to feel that we need to look/act/be a certain way in order to be accepted or considered a worthy human being.
That’s not what Tapas is getting at.
The form of discipline described in the discussion of Tapas is one that is self-generated, intrinsically motivated. When you decide that something is worth going after, you begin to arrange your consciousness toward that thing. That internal organizing then begins to show up in your words and actions, creating an integrity that supports the experience you are trying to bring about.
That discipline can look all kinds of ways, and sometimes it can surprise us. For example, after the chaos of summer with kids home from school and a general lack of routine at my house, I found myself sorely missing my morning meditation practice. So I started asking myself: what conditions do I need to create to bring that back?
There’s the process of committing to an earlier bed time (working on it!) The process of avoiding electronics until after I sit. But you know what became a real game-changer in reclaiming my practice? You’re gonna laugh.
See, if I’m going to sit in the mornings, it has to happen in a small window between waking up and getting my kids to school. In the past I used that window to make coffee in a French press, which required heating water and grinding beans and standing around in the kitchen, which of course gave me just enough opportunity to distract myself away from any possibility of sitting to meditate. I spent weeks in that distracted morning state, wanting to get back to sitting, never “finding the time.”
A trip to the grocery store changed it. Instant coffee is a thing, I remembered. It seems ridiculously small, but it was the thing that caused me to feel like I was in charge of my time. I bought my instant coffee and was up the next morning to sit.
At times that’s all it takes: the realization that we have the power to create the conditions for the life we want. Deciding what’s of value, and orienting ourselves toward that. Then you practice, you see what works and what doesn’t, you edit, you refine. Tapas isn’t a punishment/reward structure; it’s a creative process.
We wish you the joy of self-generated discipline in all of your efforts this month!
Much love and thanks for reading,
Erin H/Indi Yoga