There is so much real freedom, personal power, and confidence that isdeveloped in the practice of Tapas.Generally speaking, most of us have an aversion to self-discipline…in the West in particular. We see this continually demonstrated in coffee shops everywhere as two year olds run directionless, screaming madly, in a flushed-cheek sweat, parents bending down to face level, asking “hey buddy, where do you want to sit?”….at two years of age, being called “buddy” by a parent who wants to show everyone around how fair and friendly they are as they force their toddler to make a family decision on the best place to sit. No wonder we have such an aversion to discipline …we’re afraid to implement it as an appropriate use of guidance, and don’t want to take it on when it feels too big a challenge…hence, we’re set in a habitual pattern of denial around its necessity. Setting this denial as the foundation, we’re losing touch with self-discipline in the West, an increasingly distanced respect for it, to the point we are losing even knowing what it means, and its tremendous benefit to character development.
The practice of Tapas in reality, gives us the gift of choice because we’re not so easily found in a state of overwhelm. It allows us the ability to decipher what we really want from the random grasping of in-the- moment satisfaction. The flip side of self-discipline that most of us don’t venture to consider is that it is beautiful, grace filled, and palpable. I know this because I’ve experienced it. My first awareness of this was during a Hatha yoga class. We were in a plain, four walled room with two windows and a door, located within a simple small hotel, which was situated on the banks of the Ganges in Northern India. The class was being taught by an amazing teacher who requires no show, only practice….and his students are of like-mind. Every day, every inch of this room’s floor is occupied by a student’s yoga mat. The teacher moves through the room using silent guided adjustments (no hands-on), the rest of the student body in the stillness of the current yoga pose. Here the meditation begins. I will always remember that moment with the deepest of respect….that THIS (this moment of unwavering focus) was what all the sweat and tears of Tapas can be about. Discipline within discipline, and it was beautiful!
Self-discipline is perceived in redundant magazine articles suggesting the withdrawal of all food for a thirty day quick diet of nuts and seeds…I mean who wants to do that? And to what benefit or outcome? Perseverance of true Tapas, the daily habit of implementing the little things, makes for a big, strong, beautiful framework to work within….it gives structure to the unknown and the unknowable, which actually means that within the structure of self-discipline we have a lot of freedom. This is because of the skill we acquire from such a practice….it makes us intelligent, meeting appropriate situations with appropriate skills. To know the other side of Tapas, the beautiful aspect of it, we can then sense the nourishment it provides. It’s not a withdrawal or deprivation at all. In fact it’s the opposite. Making Tapas a daily expectation of ourselves means that we have the skill required when life says it’s Go Time…when it hits hard and in a way we didn’t expect. Because we never know when life is going to decide for us, butif we’ve been practicing, then the skill that is required to move through that challenge, or with it, is available to us. We can’t do this if we wait until there is a situation of overwhelm before trying to apply something we’ve never used. So practice when it seems not to matter at all.
This is referring to discipline of whatever, don’t discount anything…whatever it might be for you personally that brings focus, and the refinement of character. Discipline in smaller measure accomplishes greater success over the long haul as it accumulates momentum and power, rather than acting on self-discipline as a castration of self and all good things in life.---with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
I have often felt betrayed by the Yoga “community”. What I had thought would be a true Sangha, a community of wise souls, has often turned out to be a group of popular “yogis” who hang out with each other and socialize. I’ve learned that it is rare to find a loyal community of supportive people, who are willing to connect deeply and in a mature way…a Sangha that is non-competitive and non-exclusive. Because really, how are either of those words a backbone to how I imagine “community” to be? They are anything but, and in fact, reminiscent of high school.
I don’t want to sound bitter about this, because I’m not, it’s that I’ve been disappointed and have become disheartened. And, as said, have felt betrayed in the past when I discovered this through personal experience. I was most betrayed by an American woman, who claimed to be on the Bhakti path….her façade of the soft appearance, and the compassionate heart was well developed…she even “lived in India” and was always surrounded by people who just loved her. But what I’ve found is, that commonly, the façade of yoga teachers being “caring” and “supportive” within a Sangha, is easy when insecurities aren’t threatened; but the cracks in the teacher’s practice widen when an inferiority complex is touched. And this is where it turns sad, when that lack of self-awareness still requires the old fall-back of impressing it on someone else…even as “a beloved yoga teacher”.
This often turns into power tripping from the person doing it, somehow trying to grasp back whatever they perceive as having been taken from them or lost. What bothers me is learning that yoga teachers who profess Oneness, are still competitive. Don’t claim to be the “yogi” if you can’t Be the Yogi….because most of us aren’t…we’re still on the path.
I’m not one to easily fall for the fake smiles and bouncing around like Life is all light and fluffy, now that we’re all happily practicing yoga…but when I connect with even the senior teachers, who continue a façade of loving kindness, yet are self serving in their ultimate aims, to the disrespect of another…this is where I’ve been had many a time. The number of times I have supported teachers in their work only to receive none in return when the time calls for it, disturbs me. I feel sadness for the fact that they are not only blind to this self centeredness but have a resistance to looking at it. And there is no one to hold them accountable to it, because they gravitate toward the “yogis” who foster all they like about themselves….so there is no challenge in their growth within this Sangha. In fact, they often misread the authentic Yoga of another, simply because of this uplifted view they have of themselves; thinking they’re somehow superior because of the length of time they’ve been “practicing”…no, sometimes the longer we “practice” the more apt we are at practicing the right words, the right body language, the right presence. All of this is easily created.
Any teacher who claims to have removed the self and yet walks a path of destruction over another, is not in Yoga. None of us bring the same qualities into Yoga, so we don’t need to have an insecure fear of someone being “better than” or “taking away from” us in some way. Having like mind around asana and living out our fantasies of a “yogic life” are not necessarily enough to be qualified as Sangha. What are the qualities of a healthy Sangha?...because a popularity contest it is not.
I feel the qualities we bring toward our students are those same ones we ought to bring to our Sangha, our fellow teachers….in support of one another’s growth, development and practice. I have a view of honouring what each teacher brings and being of support to them in their growth as a teacher, as we would in creating a healthy community of any kind. Loyalty, trust and accountability, are all aspects necessary for good healthy relationships, including the healthy body of Yoga, so why not support one another? All of us know the challenge of being an authentic Yoga teacher in the mountain of the yoga industry, so why not help each other grow, make it easier on ourselves and each other. I see community as engaging, responsive, supportive, sharing of knowledge, wisdom and experience…how else do we expect to pass on a healthy lineage? This then becomes a sharing amongst humans rather than holding up a desired image; it fosters being what you are rather than misusing yogic terms and phrases to paint an image that you don’t live behind. As adults we should be able to live up to these standards, if we’re living the practice that we claim to be…these aren’t qualities of perfection they’re qualities of maturity. This issue is just so common in the “yoga scene” that I can’t not address it.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com