As I huffed my way up a muddy mountain trail, out for what I will generously call a run, I tried a new approach to motivation.
Rather than let my mind dig in with the “It’s OK to walk” talk … Rather than try to drive myself with ideas of the false finish line all the way up there at the crest on the horizon … I kept my gaze downward and went with this question: How is this like that?
That’s a question I’ve learned to use in self-inquiry. It came to me from Jessica Patterson at Root, with whom I recently became a certified yoga teacher and am continuing a yoga and sacred studies apprenticeship.
How is this, the challenge of the muddy, rocky trail stretching upward like that, my vision for:
Humanitou? Writing poetry? Practicing yoga? Writing yoga? Teaching yoga? Being a better dad? Creating the purposeful life of all these things in a sustainable way? Creating space in me, in my life?
How is this like that? Tiny steps forward. Presence. Not dwelling on the pain, but the progress. Patience. Gentle self-talk. Acceptance. Recognizing the strength in me as I add up steps and feel so much less compelled to give in to, “I should just stop.”
Walking or taking a break is acceptable. Sometimes it’s what’s needed. But I wanted more challenge in those moments, so I practiced how to keep stepping. I used the fires in my heart and mind to flame the fires in my legs and lungs, and vice-versa.
There is a yogic expression of fire, called tapas. It refers to spiritual discipline, burning away that which holds us back to reveal what really matters within us. It is the motivation to keep plugging away with your practice, your work of being your best self, whatever shape it takes.
We all have tapas. It can be as simple as breaking away from the couch to go for a walk, because you are pretty sure it would make you feel good about yourself.
Our habits often are to ignore that inner voice and then beat ourselves up for not doing that thing it’s urging us to do. Tapas gets us over that threshold. The fire is there, simmering and waiting for a breeze to churn it up.
We all face that. Daily. Moment to moment, even. That’s why it’s a practice and needs fire.
True story: My relationship with running has been on/mostly-off for 20 years. I can’t remember running for longer than 15 minutes for, maybe, more than a year. Today, I kept chugging for an hour on those muddy mountain trails.
Nothing but feel-goods came from that. Feel-goods and this blog post.
The difference? I remembered to put my monkey mind to work for me, not against me. I stoked the fire, rather than hid from it in shame. I asked: How is this like that … and what am I going to do with that information?
Curious about a free digital copy of the Humanitou chapbook Echoes of Oms? Subscribe to Humanitou. It’s free goodness.
Title Photo: Paul Bulai