Tag Archive: niyama

Found Exhortation (and Tapas)

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What does it mean to excel, to do well?  I think there is no excelling in yoga, at least not the way we conventionally think of excelling in school or career or sports.  But to practice in a way that is more than casual, there must be ardor–tapas. 

Tapas is often translated as fire, and the texts are full of stories of outrageous physical exertions done to prove the tapas of the practitioners looking for boons from the gods.

There is a fiery aspect to tapas, but I question whether it must necessarily be burning from physical exertion, though that is a path that calls out to many. 

The fire of tapas could be thought of as doing what it takes to manifest the will to know something deeply enough to be able to experience the fluency and grace and delight of expertise.   It could be the ardor to show up in a disciplined and committed way for hours and days and years of practice, always still wanting deeper, fuller knowing.

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Ecstatic Serenity

When I was eight or nine, a teacher asked everyone in my class to say what they wanted to be when they grew up.  The other children named the various jobs or professions that appealed to them at the time.  I responded that I wanted to be independently wealthy.  At that age, I was expressing something I already knew from family issues.  Though I did not have the words for it or a clear understanding, what I was saying was not just false precocity.  I knew at a basic level what is taught in yoga:  I would need enough material support (ardha) to follow my heart in love (kama) and work (dharma); then my life could be free (moksha).

When I was 22 and visiting my friend Dan, he asked me what I really wanted to do with my life.  We had just graduated from college.  Dan was working for a sculptor who was a professor in the art department; I had just moved back to New York, had just gotten over a failed attempt to serve as an office manager for an off-off Broadway theater, was in a place of deep emotional and financial struggle, and was trying to determine what work and corresponding further education I wanted.  “I want to be content,” I said.  “That’s too passive,” he replied.  “No, that’s not what I mean,” I tried to explain.  “For me being content being satisfied and engaged with my work and life, but still working hard and having goals.  It’s not just hanging out.”  I had all sorts of things that I found interesting and possibilities for a life path, but I didn’t have one specific career or life plan that I was certain would be more fulfilling than any of the others.  They just would have satisfied me in different ways.  Because of the dilemma of too many choices, I wanted to be able happy with whatever choice I made, even if it seemed like a compromise.  I was conscious that once I picked, because of the inherent limitations of time and space, that I would either have to be content with my choice or be unhappy.  I have since learned to think of contentment (samtosha), which is one of the niyamas of the path of yoga expounded by Patanjali, as a practice rather than a goal (and it is a very important and continuing practice for me).  Contentment is not an end, as I had thought when I was 22; it is just one part of the path to a goal of living liberated (jivanmukti), experiencing self as spirit in all that one does.

On a recent telephone seminar, Paul Muller-Ortega, my meditation and philosophy teacher, in the midst of a broad dialogue regarding various studies and practices, spoke a little of ecstatic serenity.  Memories of the discussions I had had long ago about what I wanted welled up in the forefront of my thoughts.  In thinking about what is my intention now, especially with regard to my practice (sadhana), I witnessed my previously stated intentions as just stages on the path to this discovery.  As soon as I heard Paul say the phrase, I thought, “that’s what I want; I want to be ecstatically serene.”   I seek to be always in some part of my conscious being still and peaceful, while simultaneously being passionately engaged in what life brings to me and I bring to life.

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Gardening When It’s Not Quite Time (and Sauca)

The first of Patanjali’s niyamas (part of the ethical precepts that are precursors to the practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation) is sauca — purity or cleanliness.  The practice of sauca includes in it a literal exhortation to be physically clean.  I think it also carries with it a sense of order, a cleaning out of physical, mental, and emotional clutter, so that we have more clarity.  When we find more clarity, we can be more in the flow with the inexorable sequence of time and space.

Experiencing how we fit into the pulsation of time and space is one of the exquisite joys of gardening.  This time of year, avid gardeners are eager to get int the garden, and it is tempting to get started to soon, to start new things without cleaning out the old.  When we are more experienced (and know better the optimal sequencing of starting the garden with the shifting of the seasons), we also know that we might have gotten a few days in the 50s F, but it is still winter.

Emphasizing the practice of sauca now will serve the whole gardening season.  When it is still cold, but the heart yearns for the garden, is the time to be planning, reorganizing, and cleaning to get ready for the days when it will stay warm enough for growing outside a cold frame or protected area.  As I use a lot of containers, now is the time for me to see what containers need repairs, removal of perennials that did not make it through the winter, and new soil.  It is the time to prune what is better pruned now than in the fall.  This is not just trashing everything, but seeing what should be preserved, what should be repaired, what should be cleaned, and what should be discarded or given away.  It is cleaning out what gets in the way of an optimal flow of energy to experience the greatest effulgence of nature.  By practicing the cleaning and clearing out phase with intention and enthusiasm, I am present with the garden and also in sequence with the light and the temperature.  In this way, just as I am when I practice these principles on the mat, I get the bliss of yoga.

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