Tapas is from the root word "tap," which means heat. It's not a temperature type of heat, it's a kind of a "fire in the belly," a desire to meet your goals type of heat. From B.K.S. Iyengar, in "Light on Yoga,"
Tapas...meaning to blaze, burn, shine, suffer pain or consume by heat. It therefore means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self-discipline and austerity. The whole science of character building may be regarded as a practice of tapas.Wow. That says it all, doesn't it.
Tapas is the conscious effort to achieve ultimate union with the Divine and to burn up all desires which stand in the way of this goal. A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas, is like a heart without love. Without tapas, the mind cannot reach up to the Lord.
In our American culture, discipline has gotten a bad rap. We think of discipline as punishment. But in the time of Patanjali and his codification of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, discipline had a connotation of self-care. Doing even mundane chores can be self-care, too. For example, you will have much more inner peace if you just do your dishes, rather than having them in the back of your mind saying "wash me, wash me." Think of all the peace you will have if you stop procrastinating? It is truly helpful to think of discipline in this way. Think how much better it would be if you thought of sticking to your eating plan or exercising regularly as taking care of yourself. When we are disciplined, we build our character and have pride in ourselves, just by taking care of our daily business.
Your assignment this week is to think of discipline as self-care, not punishment. What is something you've been putting off? Is there a goal you want to achieve on which you've made no progress? Pick something this week to finish. When you complete it, sit down, close your eyes and experience the peace of a job well done. Of course, journaling about your experiences is a good idea.
We all choose where to be disciplined. I'm disciplined when it is fun to be disciplined; I like doing yoga, hiking, knitting and reading. I choose the fun stuff! I'm going to do this week's assignment with you, and report back to you next week on my own results. (Accountability never hurts!) I have been putting off some work in my master bedroom. So, I will put away all my clean clothes and switch my winter and summer clothes. I'll let you know how it goes!