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Fearless in the Fire:Tapas

Finally, Tapas month is here!

I have been looking forward to Tapas since I began this project. It's always been my favorite yama/niyama, (it's everybody's fav) because it's the most actionable. The Yamas are all about what not to do, and the Niyamas are very abstract, all about internal work of observing, being mindful of ourselves and our tendencies. It's much harder to feel that I've accomplished something when I'm just trying different ways to cultivate virtuous qualities like purity and contentment.

Tapas is a pretty clear demand: self-discipline. It even has a memorable physical symbol--fire--and is translated to mean "heat".

And what happens when you add consistent heat to something? It changes. Irreversibly.

I love how Adele puts it: "Tapas has the sense of 'cooking' ourselves in the fire of discipline to transform ourselves into something else." Modern yogis love Tapas because they can comprehend it immediately; we burn/cook things all the time to survive: food, fuel, etc. Most of us have felt the burn of a hard workout, or the full effort of studying or completing a project at work for a desired outcome. We know what it means to work hard and how good it feels afterwards.

But Adele is quick to point out two crucial aspects of the pursuit of Tapas:

1. Embodying tapas is to embrace the daily choice to "burn non-supportive habits of the body and mind, choosing to forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards". It is not something to plan to do months ahead, it is something to do right now; in the choices of every single moment. It is also the delay of gratification, doing the daily grinding work for future payoff.

2. We need to keep ourselves in check, not throw ourselves blindly into a 'burning', hard-core practice of any kind without thinking it through: "We need to pay attention to what is possible, what is safe, and what is timely for us in our current life context". So, not just go crazy and run every single day (like I did).

Tapas was the only month I had ideas for ahead of time (like the very first month I stated this project). Last year, before I got derailed, Tapas was supposed to fall in April, which was the perfect time to ramp up my running for race season and generally get my shit together after a winter of my usual pattern of letting things get lazy. This year it falls in March, my birthday month, which is an added motivation to kick my ass into a higher gear.

<<A couple of other external influences fell around this time (Lent, a global pandemic and eventual quarantine), which helped give more structure to the few intentions I already had for the month of Tapas:

  • Run. A lot more. Train. I applied for the lotteries of both the Chicago and NYC Marathons and didn't get into either. That left me with a decision to make: commit to raise thousands of dollars to run in a charity group for one of these races, or sign up for a smaller marathon elsewhere in the world and make a trip out of it. Either way, I have to get my base mileage up and my mind back in the game.

  • Clean up my diet. Specifically, sugar. This coincided with giving up fruit for Lent, which cut out at least 80% of my sugar intake.

  • Generally just try to be crazy disciplined, like the people I listen to and am inspired by on podcasts and in books--people who run ultra marathons, write books, start companies from nothing, and become #1 in their field, all while doing a million other things like making podcasts, raising children, being bosses; people who have seemingly inhuman focus and drive. I want to tap that, and I know that I can because I've done it before, though at times more productively and healthfully than others.

Week 1: Asks me to remember "cathartic times in [my] life and how [I was] shaped by them". I am to think back and recognize where/when I ran from the pain and others when I was "fearless in the fire and held on for the blessing". I think a brief exploration of what a "catharsis" really is would be helpful here: it's a Greek word meaning "cleansing"; it's a major relief (usually emotional) as the result of an irreversible change. After you get through the intense ordeal, you are liberated from the stress experienced therein. It is a big emotional sigh of relief.

I didn't love this challenge. It's not hard to come up with past experiences that were intensely unpleasant at the time and which changed my life's direction quite completely: breakups, moves, opportunities for travel or work, job losses, rejections. In looking back I found a pattern that's probably common: when I was young, I fled; as I got older, I stayed, and my staying power grew each time. In my twenties I had a horrible habit of running away from people and situations that were difficult, or merely unpleasant, or that asked too much of me. I ran away from pressure and challenge. It wasn't until my early or mid-thirties that I started taking on challenges, in various forms: hard conversations, physical feats, confrontations, other people's unacceptable behavior towards me, the scary unknown of an unpredictable future and major commitments to it.

My conclusion to it all is that it's far more satisfying and far less anxiety-provoking to stay in the fire, get a little used to the discomfort of the heat, so that the next time I'm thrust in--and I will be, over and over again--the burns are less severe. And you can't avoid the outcome, but by running toward it you can maybe have some power over it, rather than running away from it and just letting it happen to you.

Week 2: At the beginning of the week I thought for sure I was pregnant (again), but for really reelz this time. I was pissed, depressed, and disappointed. I felt trapped, like I ruined my life that I only just recently clawed my way back to from the first time I got pregnant and became a mom. I resigned myself. I chided myself for being careless and stupid. I took a test and left it in the bathroom without looking at it. I was glad that at least I hadn't yet committed to running the NYC Marathon this year--as a charity fundraiser, no less. At least I still had my maternity clothes stashed under the bed. I googled the abortion pill. I felt terrible for all of it.

After venting in my journal, I remembered the lesson from last month (Santosha) and made myself move toward what I was avoiding: I went into the bathroom to check the test. And it was negative.

The tiny percentage of doubt left in me regarding my decision whether or not to have another kid has been snuffed out, I would say. I am moving toward that clarity and in the spirit Tapas, I am signing up not only to train for and run the NYC Marathon again (after declaring for the past 7 years that I have no desire to run that particular race ever again), but also committing to raising $3600 (!!!) for Girls on the Run at the same time. Side note: asking people for money--even just talking about money--makes me extremely uncomfortable. I'll write plenty about that whole situation in future posts, I'm sure.

My assignment for week two was to "Choose a practice of nourishing eating, meditating, contemplating, etc., that impacts the quality of [my] essence", and asks me if I can put myself "in the heat with enthusiasm".

This week's task fell on the same week that I started my Coronavirus Streaks: attempting to run, meditate, and practice yoga every single day of our STAY AT HOME order/quarantine. I do not advocate runnings streaks, which I'll write more on later, because it's not nourishing at all for most bodies--our muscles need rest and reprieve from such an intense demand. But I've always been curious about trying a run streak and due to the crazy turn of events that fell within my month of living by Tapas, it turned out to be a perfect time to do it: the only time I leave the house is to run, so I NEED it as a daily practice; it is nourishing my spirit and sustaining my mental health. The other two daily practices are totally nourishing, and giving myself the extra accountability of streaking them is practicing staying in the heat--doing it when I don't want to--and with enthusiasm. All three of these practices are helping to balance out the excessive time I'm currently spending doing things that are the opposite of nourishing: watching lots of TV, spending way too much time on social media, drinking lots of wine, being lazy, and fighting with my husband about whether or not to get the the fuck out of New York City.

Conclusion to weeks 1 & 2 of Tapas: no more babies; one more marathon, and a very hazy future that may involve a long quarantine and/or a major geographical move.


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