Life’s Choices

By Mati (Sandra) Gilbert

Choices!  You make many choices each day, some easy and some hard.  When I was younger, I had to decide between change and security.  A single mom with an 8 year-old son, I had just purchased a home.  My job was very secure but I had advanced as far as I could.  Though I was good at it and it was easy for me, I was no longer satisfied with the status quo.  An opportunity came along.  There was a path for advancement but it did not offer any degree of security.  Was I willing to take a chance?  Decision time!

Family, job, projects, and other areas of your life bring you to the brink sometimes.  Life is not always easy.  If you continue to choose the easy path, looking for events and situations to flow easily, you are at the mercy of events and the people who cause them.  No matter how much effort you put into setting up your life perfectly, there will always be something beyond your control.  It often changes the outcome you had planned.  The only thing you have any control over is how you are during life’s challenges.  How are you?

“There are easy parts to life, but hard parts come along in spite of your efforts to avoid them.  Yoga says you must tackle the hard stuff, not merely handle the tough stuff when it comes up, but to look for the challenges and even create them for yourself.  This is called tapas.”                                                                                                                                 — Swami Nirmalananda

Tapas is doing the hard stuff even though it is hard.  Tapas is choosing to challenge yourself by doing hard stuff, precisely because it is hard.  When you get good at it, it is no longer hard for you, and it is no longer tapas.  Doing tapas means you get to choose the challenges you are going to work on, rather than having other thrust them on you.

Swamiji describes a 4-step process to help you make tough decisions.  The steps are

  1. Take an intelligent look at yourself
  2. Discern what would be the next step
  3. Decide to do it
  4. Then do it

While this process is straightforward, your choice should be based on what is best, not what you desire most.  This is a pure choice, without expecting a specific outcome.  In other words, you see what is needed and you just do it.

Tapas is very important.  When you decide to do the hard stuff without neediness or discontent, your body and your senses are purified and improved.  You gain a new understanding of your life and the world around you.  The benefits you get from doing tapas greatly exceeds the effort you expended.

Because of the teachings of my Guru, Swami Nirmalananda, and the Grace that flows through her, I am on the path to knowing my inner divinity — my Self.  Therefore, the hard stuff does not throw me like it used to.  Whether something is hard or easy is not the deciding factor in what I decide to do.  I can and must choose where to pour my energy.  Sometimes it is easy, flowing along almost effortlessly.  Sometimes it is hard, requiring work to accomplish the tiniest little bit of progress.

In yoga, the determining factor in what you are doing is not based on how easy or hard it is — it is based on who you are while you are doing it.  Through the practice of tapas, your own Self shines through your mind, your heart, your relationships, your work, and your life.  Your life will continue to have challenges.  However, it is much easier once you know your Self — your own inherent Divinity.