When I was a few weeks away from graduating with my undergraduate degree, I was eager as most seniors are to be done with the academic and financial pressures of school. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in four years, but I also took summer classes each year so when I say four years, I mean calendar years, not academic years with summer breaks in between. I don’t remember feeling exhausted at the time which I credit to the magical and fast-rejuvenating energy of the 20s. And as eager as I was to be finished with school, I was also a little afraid of not being a part of an academic institution. School had been a constant in my life since I was four years old. If I wasn’t learning and working part-time, who was I and how could I contribute to society?
What I Didn’t Miss: the Pressure to Always Be Studying
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 speak up 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 look back at my college-aged self and wish I had the words to assign to all of these feelings back then, but I didn’t. All I said in return 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 my classmates 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 and productivity. 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 get things done. Rather, I can, but I don’t want to. It’s not sustainable. It’s not fun. It mentally and physically destabilizes me. The approach that was my only go-to tool for getting things done back in the day no longer works. Thank goodness, but also a new challenge arises: how will I get things done if my inner critic isn’t forcing me?
Tapas and Svādhyāya: Applying Discipline and Discernment
Yoga has ancient philosophical texts that guide the application of subtle nuances of physical and mental disciplines. In the lineage I practice, Ashtanga, there are eight limbs of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The second of the eight limbs is called the Niyamas which are five moral codes and social behaviors that help us guide our inner actions and thoughts on and off the mat. Two of these Niyamas apply well to any kind of discipline:
Tapas: austerity and discipline. Sample self-talk: “I can and I will get up early to practice.”
Svādhyāya: self-realization and self-study. Sample self-talk: “I can get up early to practice, but should I if I won’t get enough sleep?”
Tapas is described as discipline; the heat, the fire and the willingness to do whatever it takes. It’s following through with commitments no matter what.
Svādhyāya is the wisdom to assess the whole situation and ask the question of the moment: “How can we realistically show up today?”
I like to think of tapas as a teenager and svādhyāya as a sage. Both are important and essential. Young firey energy gets us to show up in life. Calm inner wisdom beckons us to see the holistic picture and choose wisely.
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 when your grounded svādhyāya energy boldly stood up and said: “Here’s what we can do today.”
This is the work. Navigating these two forces of:
YES, WE CAN! (tapas)
We can, but at what cost? (svādhyāya)
These two disciplines are nuanced spiritual work. They need each other. There are three other Niyamas that we haven’t even considered. But these two are illuminating enough for now.
I would love to know if and how tapas (fire) and svādhyāya (wisdom) show up in your life. Have you struggled with or had to navigate these two parts of yourself? If so, I invite you to leave a comment and share your story.
Breathe and believe, beauties.