It is beginning to feel like spring outside. Spring is the time of year where life begins to reemerge after the long, cold winter and, relating to school, I find that the time following spring break is a “rebirth” of sorts as well, signifying the close of the first half of the semester and indicating that there are a mere 8 week left until Summer vacation.
Spring is a time that is synonymous with new beginnings, fresh starts, and spring cleaning. This rebirth that is occurring all around us often inspires us to do some Spring cleaning of our own in other aspects of our lifes, working to remove those more extraneous things from our lives that add unnecessary clutter and weight. This is evidenced in a rededication to New Year’s resolutions (exercise routines, clean eating programs, etc), the physical cleaning and reorganization of our homes, cars, and living spaces, and/or a rededication and increased focus to studies or work at hand.
This process of cleansing or purification, in Sanskrit, is called tapas. This literally translates as “to heat” but also is understood to mean purification practices, more generally. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us that this process of tapas is cultivated through sadhana, or some form of consistent and disciplined practice for the purpose of self-realization. Sadhana is typically practiced in one of three domains—(1) Jana—or dedication to the practice of the pursuit of knowledge via consistent study of or dedication to more intellectual or academic knowledge (e.g., studying philosophical or religious texts in an effort to gain insight), (2) Karma—or dedication to the attainment of self-realization through service and humble action (e.g., picture those who have dedicated their lives to serving and promoting equality and well-being for others such as Mother Theresa or Ghandi), and (3) Bhakti—or dedication to the practice of self-realization through love and devotion to God.
We generally tend to resonate with a particular domain of sadhana, though different times in our lives may call for different practices and true self-realization is often reached via the combination and practice of all three domains, simultaneously.
As our sadhana is practiced, our desire to change, to purify, or to realize end results or outcomes can be thought of as an iterative process, reflected by periods of intense dedication and periods of resistance to change. These can exist separately or simultaneously and these differences in motivation create a sense of friction, heat, cleansing power or tapas.
The fire of tapas (e.g., the fire of change) certainly works to purify and mold us, but it also serves to soften us, working to break us free of old patterns and habits which have become stagnant and allowing us to penetrate more deeply into the density of our bodies, minds, and hearts. As a result of this process, the physical, psychological, and emotional body becomes cleaner, stronger, and more flexible and out indriyas (or sense organs that serve as our windows to the world) begin to regain qualities of sensitivity and discernment, allowing us to being to rework or narrative and perceptual reality in a way that is more in life with our ideal selves.
Spring is a beautiful time to examine habits or patterns which we may find ourselves repeating and it is also a wonderful time to reevaluate our goals, both for the immediate and distal future, holding on those which best serve us and beginning to see how we might best rework those that are no longer serving us in ideal ways. Our yoga practice is the perfect place to begin doing this. As you move through your practice, either of physical asana, of meditation, or of both, see if you can bring awareness to the thoughts, feelings, or sensations that emerge as you transition from one moment to the next. You may be tempted to judge these sensations, labeling them as good or bad, right or wrong, but as much as possible see if you can let go of the judgments and become a passive observer of your experience. Let the thoughts and sensations be just those, thoughts or sensations that rise and fall much like waves in the ocean. Note how at some moments, the ocean of your experience may be more calm than at others, but note that there is always a dynamic force, friction, or tapas underlying it all that gives rise to one moment and then the next. See if, in the midst of this constant movement and change, if you can find a moment of rest and repose. Of stillness. And in that moment, see if you can experience a sense of satisfaction.
This is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of awareness, and, truly, the practice of yoga. That constant return to our experience and awakening of awareness, again and again, time after time, tends to be accompanied by a sense of peace, ease, and well-being. It may seem difficult at first to access but, like a muscle being worked and strengthened, becomes easier to tap into with dedicated sadhana.
I hope you are able to find some moments of peace, ease, and well-being today. Until next time, lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.