Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tapasya: Straightening By Fire

Tapasya or Tapas: "to straighten by fire", translated as austerity...

Our desires, our likes and dislikes keep us bound to our karma, to chronic dissatisfaction or suffering in life. They block us from the realization of our highest potential. This is an example from my path. It is the kind of thing one may choose to practice to help diminish egoic attachments. However, whatever austerity, or tapas, one chooses should feel a bit challenging but not painfully or dangerously extreme. It may feel natural or even blissful, and thats how you know its right. If there's doubt, it's probably not time yet. Tapas should enhance your sadhana, not become an obstacle to it.


There was a time when I so strongly identified with my body (mistook it as my whole Self), that I suffered greatly. I wanted to live up to the popular ideal of the perfect body, although such a thing sought in that way doesn't exist. I could never be skinny enough. It was as if the lower the number on the scale, the greater my self-esteem. Any natural fluctuation in water or weight caused me so much stress. I had anxiety about my body that caused me very painful digestive problems. It caused me to feel unworthy of love. Slowly, I became so sick and tired of suffering that I found my way to yoga. After years of practice, the suffering slowly faded as my sense of self and center of self-esteem went beyond my body. I finally renounced that kind of attachment to my body, totally embracing my decision to have a child. I fully surrender, no wanting to teach such painful and disordered darshan (views) to my child. I was ready and willing to die to my old body and fully accept what I received after giving birth to my child. Once I fully returned to a vegan lifestyle, what body did I have? The one I suffered many, many years struggling for! But I don't suffer for it at all- I eat when I'm hungry, I rest when I'm tired, I drink water when I'm thirsty. When I was ready to shed my attachment, like a snake sheds her skin, I became free.

So now, another attachment feels ready to be severed. This time I am choosing to practice a small austerity to help me "straighten by fire" the attachment to the appearance of my face and hair in the mirror. I have never been satisfied with my hair for long. Long, short, medium, wavy, straight, up, down, it rarely satisfies me when I look in the mirror. No matter what stylist I see, style I try, it never "looks right". What do I wish to see? What am I looking for?

Our mental outlook and the rollercoaster of emotions colors what we see. Being slightly dehydrated may make what we see not look so good because we are a little worn out, for example. Looking for satisfaction externally never satisfies us because the world of form is in constant flux.

So I look in the mirror and leave the present moment to think "I would better if..." or "I need a haircut, I'll cut it like ..." or simply "I look terrible". Then in my mind here and there is the re-emerging thoughts of what I should do with my hair. It would repeat here and there until I did it. My mind would get off that trip for a week and then start in again. It was never satisfied, which is funny, because that's just what the Buddha said is the case with human minds- they are never satisfied by nature, thus we suffer.

Frankly, I am commited to the Bodhisatva Vow- I am working toward enlightenment for the sake of all beings, and I have a lot of work to do, I just don't have time anymore to care about seeking acceptance or self-worth through my external beauty. I never felt like I fit in much in my brand of external beauty anyway. I am working on inner beauty through sadhana.

So enough with the million haircuts, the chronic dissatisfaction, the looking for something more in the mirror. So I dreaded up my short hair. Thats the end of it.

Conventionally speaking, I look like a dude, I mean, its really quite boyish how short it is. I don't like the way it looks. I'd love longer dreads on me, but this is not about that.The point was to detach from what's in the mirror, to stop looking so hard or riding the rollercoaster of mood and emotions. What does hairstyle have to do with the meaningfulness of life? Not much at this point. So when I catch myself looking in the mirror more than is basically neccessary, thats my bell of mindfulness to come back to the moment. When I catch myself thinking about how my hair looks, thats another bell of mindfulness. Be here now!

Don't get me wrong, I am still grooming in the basic sense. I'll throw a scarf or headband on, whatever brings balance to me visually. For those who don't know, yes you wash dreadlocks, twice a week. But I'm off the treadmill of judging whats in the mirror, after initial establishment my maintenance needs are minimal, and I don't need cuts or to think about cuts all the time. More time freed to be here and now. One more present moment closer to enlightenment.

I will let them grow and grow, until they get too long for peace's sake. If they don't lock up (mature) well, I can start with a pixie cut or shaved head and do the same practice. Detachment, and full surrender to what is are important, so if they work out, great, if they don't, great. Another note about why I chose dreadlocks is that they are very common among yogis, especially in India, because of their low maintenance needs and longevity.

Remember, attachment dissolves naturally. "You can't pull the skin off the snake. The snake sheds its skin when its time" -Hari Dass Baba

when its time, shed your skin, layer by layer. Free your self of the veil of the ego. Liberate your heart, be your self, be boundless once again.

sometimes a little fire can clear the path. Let the Cosmic Blacksmith straighten those crooks with you. Ahhhh! Isn't that much better?!


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