Friday, March 5, 2010

The dance between discipline and play

This morning I got up at 6 am so I would have time for a "full" yoga practice. I am patting myself on the back here because Fridays are one of the few days I can sleep in, but the past month or so I've been choosing to get up early. Crazy, I know. But there is so much calling for my attention, the only way to manage it all is to take advantage of the early morning when I tend to have greater focus and energy.

After my practice (and walking the dog and making breakfast and cleaning up) I made the decision to work in my art journal rather than write, which has been my practice for some time now. Which got me thinking about this dance I do between discipline and play. If I have anything down, it is discipline. I was The A student for a reason: I did ALL the work. I also didn't have a lot of fun. Years later, a therapist pointed out my craving for spontaneity as a balance for the strong work component of my personality. Gracefully juggling those two tendencies is my major challenge.

Discipline is necessary if I want to "get" anywhere. In yoga it is aligned with Tapas which is one of ten foundational principles of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras known as the Yamas (observances describing our relationship to others) and the Niyamas (observances describing our relationship with our selves.) Translated from the Sanskrit, tapas means heat. It is understood in yoga as any focused effort or energy with the intention of burning away impurities in the body, mind or senses that hinder us from experiencing our essential nature. When I get up regularly for my practice - and especially when I want to sleep in - I am practicing tapas in that my effort overcomes my craving for the comfort of my bed.

I am also finding tapas is a useful concept when it comes to creating. By making Fridays my ritual day for writing, that commitment helps me to focus my energy upon something I wish to cultivate and grow. Slowly, my commitment becomes a habit. My mind, my body begin to crave this time for sitting, thinking, creating, and crafting. I have yet to read it, but a friend gave me Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit and that phrase makes perfect sense. If I want to be creative, I need to practice it every day!

But discipline in and for itself can become rigid, lifeless, joyless and stale. So here is where play is needed to balance things out. I think about discipline as me exercising control, whereas play is when I invite discoveries, accidents, and insights into my life. Sometimes play looks anything but productive; yet it is a way of churning things up. If I give myself time to unwind, relax and be spontaneous, often things buried deep within have the space to bubble to the surface. A Ha! moments can arise in play, but then discipline is needed in carrying them from the realm of idea into form.

So today I played and while I did so, new ideas and connections emerged. Maybe I will explore those ideas and see where they take me. But more importantly, I was in touch with the expansive part of myself that recognizes my life is a creative act much as the plants fighting to send new shoots up through thawing earth are creative beings. There is effort and action and there is acceptance of what evolves. It is a dance, a balancing act of doing my part and then trusting in the outcome.

Living life with zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited
(tapas), revealing the inner light. (Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga)

So, how do you shine your light?


  1. Great thoughts here.

    It can be a challenging balance. My need is to balance tranquility and just Being, with wanting to do a million things. For me, I would need to stay in bed and allow myself the gift of daydreaming, or sleep that is essential for the body and soul, or quiet time, or the letting go of having/wanting to do so much.

    Lovely pages.


  2. For many years I was hyper responsible and now that I have given myself permission to play, life has become so much more full. For me the balance has come in removing "should" from my vocabulary.
    Love your pages, love letters to yourself.

  3. I couldn't find an email for you and I just wanted to say an extra thank you for the uplifting comment on a recent post at Holistic Mama. Really made me feel great, and I needed it. ;)


  4. such an interesting post. i am probably the complete opposite of you. discipline barely exists in my world, despite a desperate attempt to cultivate it. as a result i have a litter of half completed hopes and dreams (not to mention e-courses :)

    i am not even at the stage of trying to balance the two, but your post gives me food for thought that it is possible.