Tapas: Austerity

According to Wikipedia, the Sanskrit word tapsaya means heat. Wikipedia goes on to say "In the yogic tradition, tapasya may be translated as "essential energy", referring to a focused effort leading towards bodily purification and spiritual enlightenment. It is one of the Niyamas (observances of self-control) described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Tapasya implies a self-discipline or austerity willingly expended both in restraining physical urges and in actively pursuing a higher purpose in life. Through tapas, a yogi or spiritual seeker can "burn off" or prevent accumulation of negative energies, clearing a path toward spiritual evolution." As funny as it might seem, I think that austerity is one of my favorite concepts in life. Generally considered by those of us in the West to mean "severity or plainness: severity of discipline, regime, expression, or design", it can also be considered to be "the trait of great self-denial (especially refraining from worldly pleasures)." My understanding of austerity doesn't involve harshness or severity, rather it involves continuous decision making (what doesn't?) towards a goal. As I understand it, Tapas requires a series of constant decisions leading one towards a life with less stuff: emotional, physical, spiritual.... The more austere, the cleaner we can make our lives, the closer we will be to understanding who we (at our essential selves) are. I don't think that this means that we should rush out and get rid of everything we own, start practicing yoga and meditating for five hours a day, and eschew relationships. Rather, I think it means letting go of the unnecessary things that we surround ourselves with. For me, I think that this is less of a physical or object practice and more of a spiritual and emotional practice. Because I have spent so much of the past few years moving from place to place, I have whittled most of my material things down to (what I consider) the essentials. On the flip side of that, I have found myself clinging to emotional baggage. My form of tapas (for now) will involve letting go of my knee jerk emotional reactions--why get fussed about things that don't warrant that much emotion? Instead, I will practice accepting emotions as they come in. Just because I feel hurt or upset doesn't mean that I should react with anger or total detachment. Rather, I will practice sitting with that hurt feeling, trying to understand where in ME it comes from. Instead of putting responsibility for my emotions on others, I will practice tracing their path through me. If I can understand where my emotions come from (and why), I will be able to better moderate them. If I can better moderate my emotions, I will be more able to serve myself, my loved ones, and my community. And at the end of the day, that is what matters to me.