It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone out there whose life is without struggle right now. Personal, political or planetary, there are plenty of sources of strife to choose from. For my own part, I’ve been searching vainly for a cure-all article or podcast that would put everything in perspective and melt my pain away. I haven’t found one yet, but I did find these wise words from Swami Kripalu, who at least assures me that I’m not alone; that “in the entire world, there is not one human being who is free from pain”…
“Whether the struggle is big or small, it will always give something to an individual and disappear. It’s all right if we cannot receive struggle with love, but struggle should never be discarded. To discard struggle is to discard God’s grace. Everyone considers struggle to be troublesome. Yet struggle does not give trouble to anyone. It provides an opportunity to practice austerity. Then, when one has persevered and conquered that austerity, struggle lays attainment at his feet and walks away silently.”
I don’t know about you, but “austerity” is not a word that conjures up joyful images for me. I think hair shirt, extreme discipline, pain, suffering and a little bit of torture, being without the pleasures of life – and right now, with there being so many causes of stress and strife out there – I want my pleasures! The problem is that after many, many months of relying on pleasures to counter the pain, I’ve gained more weight than I meant to, I’ve lost a good deal of muscle tone, I don’t have the lung power that I did a year ago, many of my clothes don’t fit, my blood sugar is up, I don’t have as much energy, my moods are more erratic, I’m not sleeping that well, and I know that I don’t feel as good as I could.
Sigh. A little “austerity” is probably exactly what’s called for.
So I looked for another word for “austerity”, one that I could get behind more easily. Of course, tapas the yogic practice of “discipline”, came immediately to mind. My favorite definition of tapas is “uplifting discipline”. This definition captures for me exactly what I know I need right now. I don’t need more stress and strife, but instead, practices that uplift me – my mood, my outlook, my energy, my ability to greet the day. Instead of focusing on denying myself things that bring me joy, I’ve begun to add some practices that uplift me. For me, a big one of those is exercise. So, after four months of not going to the gym at all, I have now been to the gym on six of the last eight days! Ha! Some success!
I know that, ultimately, this journey of tapas and austerity will lead me to make some other healthy choices, perhaps even to saying no to some sources of pleasure. I trust that the perseverance I’m finding within myself now, each time I go to the gym, will get me there. Gradually. I can already feel that my outlook is better, just after a few days. That I already feel uplifted is a sign that I’m on the right track, that the austerity practice I’ve taken on is a good one for me. Already, I can feel my personal struggle becoming less ‘trouble’ and more of an ‘opportunity’, as Swami Kripalu suggests. And – for today anyway – I’m curious to see where this might lead. To see what other sources of stress and strife might possibly become less ‘trouble’ and more ‘opportunity’. And that is a beautiful thing.