It’s spring time in the Midwest: the crocuses are up and the daffodils are blooming. I’ve got a big bare spot in my backyard that needs to be raked and planted with grass seed. It’s time to start thinking about putting my gardening chores back into my daily routine. Years of gardening have taught me a little about myself: 1) that I’m apt to do too much too early, itching to plant before the frost-free “safe” planting date and 2) that in my enthusiasm to be outdoors digging in the dirt I’ll put in too long of a day, and my back will be complaining by evening. So I’ve learned to curb my spring-fever exuberance, and set up a schedule for myself, working a little bit in the garden each day, pacing myself.
I suppose you could say that my daily gardening routine is, shudder, a discipline. I shudder because the word discipline by itself instantly conjures up punitive images of a naughty child being spanked on the bum, or ranks of young military recruits piping in unison, “Yes, Sir!”, to the command of a drill sergeant. The word self-discipline is almost worse, conjuring up images of rigidity, self-absorption, and obsession. But disciplines—and I’m using the word in its non-punitive sense-- can be very, very helpful. In the dog days of summer, mid-to-late July, when everything is wilting in the heat and high humidity (plants and me, both) the last thing I want to be doing is sweating in the dirt, outside, gardening. That’s when my moderate gardening routine really pays off and I’m able to coach myself, “Just put in a half hour in the garden, the roses really do need to be deadheaded”.
There is a yoga ethical observance of discipline, called tapas in Sanskrit, that literally translates into the word “heat”. Sometimes teachers explain it as meaning self-control or restraint. I’ve had other teachers use the ethic as a platform for encouraging daily practice. But I’ve found, over the years that I understand the yoga ethic of tapas best by its relationship to intention and mindfulness. Like many people, my life is apt to get over scheduled, and I can get lost in the busyness, swept along by the rushing current of appointments, deadlines, chores, meetings, and yoga classes, until my life seems to be an endless stream of “doings” and I find myself responding to these doings reactively and robotically. When I set about to live mindfully, with intention, I find myself better able to evaluate these doings and can more easily prioritize them.
Like gardening, living mindfully with intention is not about prescriptive ideas of how things should turn out or the achievement of specific goals. Becoming fully alive becomes the only object; being present in the current moment becomes the only goal. When I start my garden each spring I never know which flowers will do particularly well that season, or which ones will struggle. But I am confident that there will be beauty in my garden regardless of the conditions outside my control, as long as I pay attention to it, a little bit each day. As a result, I am just as pleased with the volunteer violet popping out of the lawn in spring as I am with the effusion of blossoms in my rose hedge in June.
The yogi’s have a saying, “energy follows intention”. When I pause in my doings and bring my attention to the present, it quickly becomes apparent whether I am spending my day drifting and only reacting to my life, or whether I am being an active participant, and fully alive in my own life. When I set my intention to live mindfully and pray for the Spirit to guide me, I invite the action, the heat, the discipline, that gives me both purpose and renewal.