Looking back at the times I was the most lost, the most broken and damaged I have ever felt, I remember feeling like it would never end. It is so easy to swim in despair and stay there……and more importantly, on some level, want to stay there.
As humans, we are so good at adapting whether we realize it or not. When we experience discomfort, pain, trauma, grief, loss we find ways to cope. That new behavior or story we create to justify what we believe creates a “new normal” that can stick around our whole lives and we forget who we were before or without that experience. We become comfortable with our new patterns and attach to the avoidance of pain and the desire for pleasure.
A child being told in various ways both directly and indirectly that she is not good enough, not smart enough, too fat, too weak, too dark, too ugly, too visible, unworthy, and on, and on…may grow up to prefer to be invisible. Coping strategies she develops may include hiding behind the things, behaviors, and people where she feels the most comfort, the most safe. Maybe she learns to believe and own all of those opinions of others and becomes addicted to the coping strategies she developed over time.
We create patterns in our mind, in our heart, and habits in our lives to protect ourselves. We numb ourselves, or hide, or resist, or run away, or lash out, or project on to those around us. At one extreme, some patterns can be irreparably more damaging to ourselves and others than the deeply buried motivation for the behavior itself. And at the other extreme, some patterns are much more subtle.
Sometimes it is simply denial of what we see happening before us. Sometimes it is withdrawing from the people in our lives or blaming them for our own misery. Sometimes it is the jokes we tell at our own expense to deflect or redirect how we really feel. And sometimes it is the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs we hold, out of habit that is required to continue the very patterns of behavior we’ve created and so the vicious cycle of self-sabotage continues.
So how do we get off this merry-go-round? Sometimes *life* takes care of it for us and brings us to our knees. Sometimes hitting “rock bottom” is all that it takes for the motivation of a better way of living and trying to be a better person becomes a clear choice regardless of how difficult the process of recovery can seem. And sometimes we need a true catalyst for change.
The element of Tapas in yoga is knows as self-discipline, austerity, and is essential for transformation. It is the consistent effort to see ourselves clearly, honestly, and commit to the work required no matter how uncomfortable or emotionally painful the experience may be.
We will tell ourselves and those around us stories about why we can’t do something or why we have to do things one way versus another. Those patterns are often based in the belief that “good” feelings and positive experiences are the only ones worth having. It is the belief that only the things that we (think) we want can be considered blessings and answered prayers. This belief assumes that gifts of happiness are made only of rainbows and lollipops and any other feelings or experience must be thrown away with the trash, blocked out of our memory, and avoided like the plague. And we wonder why some patterns in our life continue to repeat…
A consistent yoga practice allows us to dedicate that time on our mat to be in our body, to listen to the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that come up. It allows us to address the beliefs that suddenly have no where else to hide, and in order to sustain the effort we learn to detach and continuously come back to our breath instead. As insecurities arise, as our ego becomes challenged, as we are made to feel raw and exposed, this practice of Tapas teaches us to build strength, openness, and resilience through the discomfort. We are taught to choose compassion in order to survive. We learn that without challenges there’s no reason, nor is there the ability, for us to grow.
And so that girl who believed once she was damaged beyond repair, begins to fall in love…with herself and with truly living. She begins to embrace and accept her whole self–her past, her present, and future. She begins to treat herself and others with love rather than react from a place of fear. Through her practice, she discovers the ability to see and stand in her power. She finally begins to understand that living life is not about a superficial sense of feeling “good” because the moments of darkness helped to define her light. And as the journey continues, living a life of gratitude replaces a life once filled with despair.