I was just listening to Julia Cameron's Reflections on the Artist's Way. (I'm working on updating the week on creativity in a life coaching course for my day job.) She said, "Discipline is a word that we use to beat ourselves up.... It's fun to do something creative. Once you get used to doing it, it doesn't take discipline."
I beat myself up about my lack of discipline as recently as June 2017. I remember thinking that I should take some work with me to Jamaica to prove to myself that I have the discipline to be an entrepreneur. That sounds ridiculous to my ears now. I'm not exaggerating, though, those were my exact thoughts.
In yoga, the concept of discipline, is called tapas. And in my study of yoga, I have really grappled with the meaning of tapas, probably because discipline is such a loaded word for me. The literal translation of tapas is "to burn". It is described as austerities, self-discipline, and purification. The hermetic yogis are put on a pedestal of fasting, celibate, self-denial. It seems completely unattainable, and to be honest, undesirable. I do not cling to enough guilt to be a self-flagellator.
Which brings me to another point raised by Julia Cameron: artists do not start off doing amazing work. She said that even George Lucas's student films were not brilliant. The creative journey is one of small steps; we do not jump from novice to academy award or hermetic yogi in one leap. In fact, the desire that we do so is one of the causes of suffering.
So, if the journey of self-discipline does not start at renunciation, starving, and self-flagellation, then where does it start? Tapas is that feeling of being uncomfortable and breathing through the discomfort. It's standing up in front of the class and speaking even though butterflies are setting up a mosh pit in your belly. Every time I follow through with something instead of talking myself out of it, I'm practicing tapas. So, ironically, being on vacation and enjoying my trip to Jamaica could be considered discipline. I breathed through the gamut of shoulds and let them go so I could relax and just be.
"Once you get used to it, it doesn't take discipline." That edge is always moving. As one behavior becomes a pleasurable habit, we try something new, continually growing and stretching ourselves. That is tapas; that is discipline.
When we add svadhyaya, or self-study, to the tapas, we get curious. Right now, in my yoga practice, I'm curious about my fear of chaturanga dandasana, the lowering part of a push-up. So far I've discovered that my imagination of plank is much too literal. That line is not really as straight as a board, which explains why I never know what yoga teachers are talking about when they say chin, chest, and then belly. Boards do not move that way. I don't even think bamboo moves that way. I had been assuming I was too weak or too out of shape or maybe I had fallen from a really low height as a child and landed on my chin.
After a while, though, that explanation ceased to satisfy me. I've been reading articles and watching youtube videos, showing the smaller steps leading to chaturanga. And I've been recording myself so I can see if my elbow is really at a 90 degree angle. What is happening in my body at that moment when I get scared and just flop to the ground?
In this practice of self-discipline and self-study there is an ebb and flow, a balance between effort and ease, as there is with any yoga asana. If we force the discipline, we become out of balance. If we force the practice, it does not turn to pleasure. Forced practice turns to resentment and shame. Don't expect to see a perfect chaturanga from me in the next blog. I will be cycling through from practice, to curiosity, to study, to reflection, and back to practice, with surrender and patience, for as long as it takes for me to enjoy chaturanga.
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After burning out from a long career as a middle school/high school reading/math/science teacher, I returned to school to study massage, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga.