Tapas. Ah! Spanish food! But no, this is not the kind you eat at a Spanish restaurant — all those delicious “small” plates of food. But, in another way, this kind of tapas is food too. It is food for your soul and your eternal being. In tapas, one might say we are “cooked” into something new. We are “cracked open” so a greater understanding can emerge.
Tapas is a Sanskrit word that describes yet another of the niyamas, the ethical practices as set out in classic yoga philosophy. It is a guideline to help us live in the world while still embracing the spiritual essence of our own being. Most of us are not monks or hermits, living apart from everyday life. We need systems of support along the way. Thus, we have the eight limbs of yoga. And, thus, we have tapas.
LESSON FORTY THREE
TAPAS — THE FLAME OF CHANGE AND ENTHUSIASM
The word, tapas, has been described in a variety of ways. Some say it is a fire that burns within and fosters wisdom, integrity, simplicity, and focus. Others laud its ability to trigger enthusiasm and excitement pushing us ever more to release all distractions and bring us through the flames to a place of deep balance and tranquility. Others explain tapas as that which kindles the flame of the divine within us and burns away all impurities. All of these describe the richness that is tapas.
It is useful to think of the practice of tapas when we are in the midst of crisis, change, and pain. When it seems that some sort of catharsis is occurring and pressing us into a sometimes dramatic change. When something within us is being burned away so that a new version of ourselves may appear. For myself personally, a few years ago my path took me into a place of deep loss and fear, It was a falling away from what I thought I had been. Something new was struggling to make itself known — a new “me” in effect. It felt like being burned up until I could see the debris was melted away, and I was glad to see it go.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Pain and loss are not uncommon in the physical world and while we are residing there, even in it as a dream, our feathers get ruffled. Staying steadfast in our beliefs is a powerful means of unearthing the “pearl” within the shell. Sometimes we become so immersed in this play of grief, self-pity, anger, and other emotions, that it is hard to catch the spiritual drift. Swami Muktananda wrote:
The secret to success in sadhana (spiritual practices) is to use everything to our advantage.
There are legions of stories about those who have turned tragedy into enlightened experiences. Take, for example St. John of the Cross in his writings in The Dark Night of the Soul. His suffering carried him into the arms of the Divine. Or consider the response of Ram Dass, a contemporary teacher on the spiritual path who, much to his surprise, “suffered” a stroke some years ago, leaving him quite debilitated physically. Yet this experience of “fierce grace,” as he called it, resulted in his naming his experience as “being stroked” by God.
Don’t be mistaken, it is my wish that none of us are so “blessed” as to reach deep levels of pain, but perhaps we can begin to see that the fire that consumes the forest makes way for new shoots to spring from the soil. It is a form of re-birth that allows the Divine within each of us to shine in the light of day.
These ideas may help you better understand tapas:
- When you are confronted with levels of fear, pain, or loss, what might you do to “ground” yourself? Would it help for you to take a walk, listen to some music, do yoga poses, watch your breath, meditate, read a book that makes you laugh? What about praying, asking for guidance and strength? Or reading some passages that help you remember who you are?
- Using affirmations can bring a lift. Saying “I love myself completely NOW,” can be helpful in giving something positive for the mind to give focus, and breaking a pattern of negative thinking.
- Can you remember times when you felt lost and afraid? Do you remember how long this lasted? Did something else arise to replace that experience? Can you recall in any way that those feelings and emotions were constantly changing, yet you, the real you, was still there, unchanging. Are you able to see that you made it through and came out stronger?
- Try thinking of ways that sustain you and keep you steady, when you are not in the eye of the storm. If you devote more to those habits, like eating good, healthy food, caring for your body, finding coping mechanisms for stress, taking time to go inward, laughing, giving love and forgiveness to yourself and others, they will be “set” in your everyday life. All of these build up strength for times of duress and flame the fires of joy and happiness within us.
Remember that tapas builds enthusiasm, and “fires us up” for confronting whatever may arrive in our lives. So let the multiple meanings of tapas enrich your life in new and surprising ways. We are all in this together, walking hand in hand, on the path that guides us to Eternal Love.
With love and namaste, Deanne
For more information, go to http://www.deannemincer.com