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New Year’s Resolutions – Determination vs. Surrender

There are certain moments and milestones in our lives which remind us to pause, to breathe, to look back – and to consciously choose the direction in which we wish to move forward. The New Year is one of those times of reflection in our Western societies. For us personally, it is the occasion to define our priorities in terms of practice Patanjali calls this type of resolution Tapas and features it in the ten recommendations for integrating Yoga into our daily lives.

Tapas means burning, and refers to a chosen routine which is to be observed very strictly, in spite of any internal or external obstacles. Tapas is frequently thought of as a willpower challenge, a Yogic tool to build determination and stamina.

Anyone who has practiced Tapas knows that at times this commitment might seem to oppose spontaneity, that pushing oneself impedes surrender, and that Tapas can feed the ego instead of transcending it. Basically, Tapas seems to cultivate exactly those qualities which stand in the way of spiritual transformation.

Sitting for some time with the practice, we found that Tapas very much depends on goal and attitude: Any Tapas which is directed towards personal or even spiritual improvement will inevitably strengthen the ego – and this consequently contradicts Liberation. If Absolute Freedom is timeless and infinite, it cannot be a goal to be reached in the future. “Freedom is not for the person, but it is a Freedom from the person.” (Mooji)

The practice of Tapas radically shifts when we choose Freedom as the topic: Our commitment can be to any form of practice that allows us to tap spontaneously into the Present Moment. This is when personal effort becomes surrender, when aspiration and letting go merge in a symbiotic unity, and when the fire of Tapas reveals its inherent power of purification. Yoga is the challenge to find the balance between two opposing qualities. It is the art of meeting the silent gap, which opens the door for real transformation.

For us, Tapas is the tool to carefully choose our priorities in life, and it gives us the power to stick to them. Tapas is the purifying fire which lights our way and burns away all that is insignificant.

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