Steve King

The Tao of Tapas

I had wondered about the significance of Tapas Fleming’s (the originator of Tapas Acupressure Technique) name, and it was only recently, upon reading Rudolph Ballentine’s book Radical Healing, that I found an explanation. It turns out to be one that truly fits with the concept of acknowledgment, but without letting an urge move one into the addictive action step.

Tapas involves arousing play an energy-invested impulse, …and then
electing not to express it in routine or habitual fashion. Tapas is not suppression
or denial, which are ways to avoid experiencing the urgency of the
impulse. You experience it fully and powerfully and yet–despite the
discomfort of its urgency– you choose not to act on it. You pass. You simply
decline to be moved by it. You intentionally contain and accept the
discomfort of the building energy/impulse and wait for it to find a new course.
It’s like an internal version of Gandhi’s passive resistance strategy. You refuse
to be moved, and the immense power that is mobilized around that refusal
tends to get transmuted.
At some point the energy you’re choosing not to express finds another route.
What typically happens is that you feel a sudden heat. The word tapas
carries the connotation of burning, and it’s perhaps from the use of this
technique that we get the idea of “burning off karma”. …. The energy isn’t
denied here – or the action it’s trying to push. You’ve just made a
conscious decision to deactivate a particular habit.
As a result, your actions will enjoy a freshness and genuine spontaneity
that makes each moment surprising for you. Without this, what passes
for spontaneity is only a counterfeit. It’s not the adventurous creativity that
is the essence of life, but is instead the dull routine of ingrained habit
carrying you toward ennui and loss of vitality.
Although even your most genuinely spontaneous response is to some degree
a reflection of your unresolved issues, what is creative about it is the way it
contributes to living through the experiences needed to move past those issues.
Without employing some version of tapas, you remain prey to habits you
wish you could change because they carry you nowhere. Without some
radical measure, those habitual patterns, rooted in the unconscious,
are continually reinforced by the actions they prompt, so that the lion’s
share of your energy is tied up in a circular chain of action, reaction,
frustration, and resentment. Breaking out of this requires only a bit
of skillful attention. (pps. 432-4)

Ballentine also mentions an example of how a form of tapas was helpful to his son who had come down with a severe case of chicken pox. I have used this story in a metaphorical form and it has been very helpful in assisting clients to understand the process, and why it is a healing move to acknowledge and work through something rather than to avoid, deny or stay in negative habitual limbo.

Knowing as we do that scratching the chicken pox postules on the face will leave scarring, one is therefore faced with a choice. You can either scratch, and get some instant gratification for the itchiness, but with the guarantee of life-long scarring, or you could sit with it for 10-12 days without any scratching and have the delayed gratification of coming out the other end both healed and with no scarring.

Many have experienced and endorse the concept of owning, acknowledging and verbalizing the desire or urge to use alcohol, drugs, food or other addictive substances or processes, though without acting upon it, as a means to deal with them. They have experienced the moving of the energy from an undercurrent through to full-blown desire but have sat through it, and by doing so have realized that they didn`t die and nor were they overwhelmed by anxiety or the doom that seemed so impending just moments beforehand.

When my Wife quit smoking many years ago she would often state how much she would give for a smoke, but gradually the urges waned, her determination strengthened and it is now only occasionally that the urge or “Addictive Voice” will surface and she has the wisdom to know “this too shall pass”.

Ballentine further states that disease is tapas thrust upon us when we have put it off endlessly. In any case, it’s the transmutational process of tapas that is the essence of the healing experience, whether it’s the transformation and healing of a psychological disorder or the resolution of a physical illness. A magical confluence of polar opposites mix together here to create the mystery of healing. The process hinges on your being fully in control, totally able to make a choice about how you deal with the crisis; at the same time, illness gives you the gift of helplessness – the overwhelming awareness that your way of being has, at least in some respects, failed. You have pushed to your limits and you have come up empty-handed. This creates a moment when you are receptive to a spontaneous response from a much deeper level of being – what one might call grace, an inspired vision of the heretofore unimagined.

It seems necessary to experience a certain sense of giving up, of surrender, in order to discover a totally new way of being and functioning. (ibid., pps. 436-7)

For some, the only thing left to hold onto is giving up!

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