Ever had one of those moments where you think: “Well, I’m certainly getting what I wished for”?
You too? Good. I don’t feel so alone now.
When I was in college and a few weeks away from graduating with my undergraduate degree, I was eager as most seniors are to just be done with the academic and financial pressures of school already. I graduated in four years, but I also took summer classes each year so it could be said that I took five years total to finish college. I don’t remember feeling exhausted at the time (ah, the magical and fast-rejuvenating energy of the 20s!) In fact, I was a little afraid of not being a part of an academic institution, a constant that had been in my life since I was 4 or 5 years old. For if I wasn’t learning and working part-time, who was I and what was I worth? And how was I contributing to society?
More than anything, I remember wanting release from the constant pressure to be studying or doing something related to academics. Whenever I would allow myself time to do something fun, soon my inner mean girl would swoop into in my head and remind me that whatever fun activity I was engaging wasn’t “productive” and therefore meant that I would probably get a lower grade than I was capable of getting in a class, I was wasting time and money, AND WORSE, I was not being a good steward of my mother and all the time, energy, and money she sacrificed in the pursuit of getting me a college degree.
Oof. So much self-imposed guilt and shame. I wish I had the words to assign to all of these feelings back then, but I didn’t. All I could say was: “I’m so ready to be done with school” and that’s all that needed to be said. People got it. They understood. I also remember comparing myself to them and thinking: “Yeah, they get it, but school is so much easier for them than it is for me.” Now I know that might not have been true.
It’s taken me years to rewire my motivations for learning. I’m still working on it. I can’t shove my own nose to the grindstone anymore in the way that requires me to inflict mental and physical torture on myself to be productive. Rather, I CAN do that. But I don’t want to. It’s not sustainable. It’s not fun. It makes me mentally and physically unstable. That approach that was my only go-to tool for getting things done back in the day now makes me ask the question: “Why am I even doing this?”
Yoga also has a language and an ancient tradition that explains the subtle nuances of physical and mental disciplines. In the lineage I practice, Ashtanga, there are 8 limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras text. The second of the eight limbs is called the Niyamas which are five moral codes and social behaviors which help us guide our actions and thoughts on and off the mat. Two of these Niyamas apply well to any kind of discipline:
Tapas: austerity and discipline. Translation: “I can and I WILL do the thing!”
Svadhyaha: self-realization and self-study. Translation: “I can do the thing, but SHOULD I do the thing?”
Makes sense doesn’t it?
Tapas is the heat and the fire and the willingness to do whatever it takes. It says:
Tapas: “Let’s do this thing no matter what!”
Svadhyaha is the wisdom to assess the whole situation and ask the question:
Svadhyaha: “How can we realistically show up today?”
I like to think of tapas as a teenager and svadhyaha as a sage. We are capable of navigating both of those parts in us which can be intense and amusing.
Can you think of times in your life when fiery tapas energy was running the show of your life? Can you also think of a time in your life when your wise and grounded svadhyaha energy boldly stood up and said: “Here’s what we can do today and that’s it.”
Remember when I said at the beginning that I am getting what I wished for and more?
Even though I was worn out from proving myself academically, in my senior year of college, I always said that if I had more time and learning capacity to study other things more in-depth. Subjects on that not-so-short list included: political science, public policy, gender studies, and marketing. I enrolled for Marie Forleo’s B-School at the beginning of this month and it’s been everything I hoped for and WAAAAY more.
Marie is a very proactive teacher and she demands excellence and accountability which I love. She also tells us to make a plan and if you’ve met me, you know that I have a possibly very unhealthy desire for all things involving calendaring apps. They are just so efficient and easy-to-use and collaborative and time-saving and… I digress.
So after I registered and threw down the cash for the program, tapas energy opened up my calendar and proudly typed and declared: B-SCHOOL TIME in 2-hour chunks, in bright yellow, every day for March and April. My calendar gorgeous you guys… truly.
Then svadhyaha showed up in the form of real life and responsibilities and said: “We can do this much on this day”.
And this is the work. Navigating these two forces of:
YES, WE CAN! (tapas)
We can , but at what cost?(svadhyaha)
These two disciplines have been working it out in my brain and have been a real force of nuanced spiritual work for me this month. They need each other. And there are 3 other Niyamas that we haven’t even considered. But these two are illuminating enough for now.
By the way, this also shows up in other parts of life. I was so moved by the March For Our Lives movement this past weekend. I have marched in the Women’s March and I believe in the power of people presence for political causes. But I couldn’t go. I had other plans and I was so tired.
Tapas showed up in my brain and said: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got stuff to do and you’re tired, get out there and show up!”
Svadhyaha said: “You’ve got things to do, time to spend with your mom, and you’re feeling exhausted. You can show support on social media (which I did). You can make a recurring pledge donation for Everytown (which I did). There’s another walk-out on April 20th. Let’s put that in your pretty calendar and do our best to show up then.”
Notice the pronoun use: tapas is very “you” oriented, but svadhyaha is “you” and “we”. Svadhya’s on my team. I trust her whole-heartedly.
And by the way, my struggles to get all my work done and succeed and do well and make myself and my people proud? All of that is hard work. It’s the only job that a K-12 or a university student should ever have. But today’s students and educators have more than academic pressures on them. They also have gun violence in their schools to worry about. Active shooter drills. And even these things are not enough to prevent violence in their places of learning. So they stepped up and answered the call of their tapas to make a change. I am so proud of them and everyone who showed up for the March For Our Lives. Let’s keep going together.
I would love to know if and how tapas (fire) and svadhyaha (wisdom) show up in your life. Have you struggled with or had to navigate these two parts of yourself? If so, leave a comment and make us all feel better in knowing that we’re not alone.
Breathe and believe, beauties.
P.S. Here are 6 short speeches given by 6 wise young people who I imagine had to practice tapas and svadhyaha in preparation to get on that stage in Washington D.C. and have their wisdom be heard. They all made me cry. Witness their power and become a part of it if you feel so inspired.