Monday, August 8, 2011

Tapas and Pulling Weeds

This morning I finally went to my backyard to pull weeds from the vegetable garden. It really isn’t a vegetable garden anymore, as I’ve  let it go this year. My focus has been in other directions, and the garden had become a jungle. Weeds were, and I’m not kidding, at least 4 feet high. I feel empathy for the neighbors who have been watching it get to this state over the past couple of months, as I certainly haven’t.
Anyway, it didn’t get like this overnight, and it was going to take some hot, sweaty, and itchy work to find what few plants I have still growing between the weeds. As I started pulling, I was trying to find some sort of lesson in the mess (cause I do that). 
Finding the lesson really was fairly easy. Most of us have aspirations of living in a healthy, balanced way. At some point we make a plan, and begin to follow it. This is my garden at the beginning of the summer, weeded, mulched, with seeds planted.
We do well for a while, then, something happens. Perhaps we’ve eliminated coffee (I raise my hand) and have a particularly tough day. We treat ourselves to a cup. (I raise my hand.) A few weeds pop up in the garden, and nobody is looking.
That cup tastes so good. The next time we feel a little sluggish or cranky, we think about that cup of coffee again.  The weeds begin to gain height and strength, and several more begin to take root. 
But once we’ve opened the door of opportunity a little bit, these habits get a toe hold in and slowly, when our back is turned, inch the door open wider. While an occasional treat of anything is generally fine, it’s when the occasional becomes habitual that we lose ground. Soon the weeds become a ground cover...where is the garden? 
Our best intentions often go this way. We sincerely want a healthy life (clean garden) and know how to create it. What is missing?
In yoga we call the missing ingredient "tapas". The translation from Sanskrit is “heat”. In yoga is it used to describe the focused effort and self-discipline of the yogi on the spiritual path. But the connection to heat is very important.
First, it is important to remember that nowhere in any yogic texts is it implied that the practice of yoga is easy. In fact, the very difficulty, the very effort, creates a sort of friction. The friction is created between our cravings and goals, our desires and the higher path, our attachments and our inner knowledge. When we are working with a deep desire or attachment, and trying to follow the right path, that friction we feel creates heat. That is the heat of tapas.
Heat creates transformation. Heat transforms our food, allows us to change the shape of metal, and rejuvenates landscapes (think forest fires as a natural occurrence). The heat created by our efforts is what transforms us.
Given this, we should not feel discouraged when we have trouble in creating change in our lives. We should allow ourselves to feel the effort, the discomfort. Back off and give in, and the heat of transformation dissipates.

Tapas is a good thing. It needs to be created and cultivated, like my garden. It needs to maintained through constant applied effort, like regular weeding. With regular effort, the weeds may pop through from time to time, but will never again take over the original plan, a clean, productive garden.
I created a little heat this morning bringing the mayhem back in order. In retrospect, perhaps the heat of a blowtorch would have been useful. Sigh.