tapas: the essential spark to mapping the world within
March 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A good story always starts at the beginning… right?
Well, this one starts 1000′s of years ago…
Picture ceremonial fires, fires meant to illuminate, to nourish spiritual growth, to burn, to purify, and sanctify the relationship between the manifest and the un-manifest or the divine.
Now skip ahead a little to the time of Buddha, and the development of yoga practices, where those elaborate, lengthy ceremonies moved inside – within the body… essentially moving the fire within… the intention is the same but the methods more practical – no fire pits needed! This is Tapas… and in yoga practice we learn that it is an essential element in change, transformation and growth. My teacher David calls it the “essential spark to mapping the world within.”
The word comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn” and often it is interpreted as “fiery discipline” and it is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. As I’ve been moving through some big transitions in my life, relationships ending, changing, new ones beginning, old ones evolving… it is tapas, the element of fire, that in many ways has been my guide.
Why? Because to me, tapas is the conscious, focused, necessary commitment to face and burn off the habits that keep us from living fully. Tapas is getting on my yoga mat regularly, yes… heat is generated by the bandhas, the drishti, following the vinyasa method. But tapas also accompanies any action that we deliberately take to bring about change, and it apply’s to all of the practices of our life, our work, our parenting, and our relationships. A practice, a disciplined practice of any kind, in particular a mind/body practice is essential for developing the will needed to have tapas in your life.
From his article Agni: God of Creative Fire , David says: “Because fire is THE most important element in practice, you must work consciously with your fieriness or lack of. It can require tremendous energy to get to a place where fire presides over your practice, where tapas leads you– where action, will, effort, concentration, perseverance, care, love, and enthusiasm all lead you. These are the qualities that spark and ignite your creative fire.”
On the mat and in life, tapas relates to our ability to consistently practice with an aim to leave behind expectation, what we thought possible. This means letting it get “hot in the kitchen,” by working with a degree of intensity that challenges our own assumptions of what we were capable of: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
(I’m sure all of the people in my life just love this about me.)
Because of course we all know there is also a downside to fire… as David says: “To be in relationship with fire is to accept risk and hence the necessity to respect its power in your practice because uncontrolled fire will burn leading to pain and injury.”
And this has everything to do with our habits, our patterns, our rules, our excuses and our default settings. Because when we are honest about it, for nearly everyone, our habits usually over-power our intentions. Tapas… fire…. letting it get “hot in the kitchen”… challenging ourselves… this is how little by little we can start to see and then change our default settings, autopilot, change our habits and patterns and live our lives more fully.