On my way to work this morning, having left the house 20-25 minutes later than I would have preferred, I came upon a demonstration led by organized labor seeking a Secretary of Labor who honored good jobs. My timing, thanks no doubt to the mysteries of the goddess of sequencing, was perfect; just as I arrived Senator Sanders was speaking. The puzbot was posing for lots of photos.
On my way home from work, I heard the sounds of a crowd at the Capitol. I joined in to listen (Elizabeth Warren spoke shortly after I arrived) and chanted with my fellow citizens–the chant not “om mani pedme hung” nor “om mane padme hum,” but on this particular night, with this particular crowd, addressing this particular issue, “one more vote.”
Being out here over and over again regardless of hope of the immediate outcome being effectively influenced is a variation on tapas, on sadhana, on seva, on faith put into practice.
It seems that this monk and I are being drawn to the same places this week, though I am guessing our days are pretty different.
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.
I have been pining for a great adventure that would crack open my heart and remind me of the exalted.
A look at the sky as I did errands in the middle of my work day reminded me that all we need to find that ecstatic sense of awe is to be open to it right where we are.
The sadhana is to stay filled with awe as we do our work and chores, no matter how prosaic or stressful. Easier said than done, but worth every bit of effort (tapas).
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.