In Yoga, there are 8 different pathways, or “limbs” that make up the various elements the yogi believes to be necessary for a strong practice. Within this eightfold blueprint of transformation, these limbs have their own branches, twigs and leaves that grow from them and hone down these bigger concepts into smaller sub-groups. Of these greater limbs, one is called Niyama, a sanskrit word that means “observance.” The five Niyamas are all connected in their own way, and of these, one is called Tapas- austerity.
The philosophy behind tapas is simple, minimalist, and beautiful- just like the lifestyle it calls for. At its core, tapas is about doing things that you don’t want to do, or not doing things that you do want to do, in order to create a positive impact on your life through the consistent practice of self discipline. It is not about torturing or harming oneself, but exercising control over ourselves, our habits and our desires in order to create a more highly functioning individual through mastering our relationship to passion, desire, and comfort.
I have adopted and adapted many elements of this concept into my life and utilize a three-fold method that I have taken to calling “Discomfort Inoculation.” My brother Jack Donovan has semi-joked with me before that I have the tendency to fetishize discomfort. In a way, he is not incorrect- for me, deliberately choosing minimalism, simplicity, and forcing myself to do things that I don’t necessarily want to do, but know will make me stronger or more focused, makes up a large part of the bedrock of my personal philosophy.
I have isolated and identified in this article three of the structures that form the architecture of my method: Solitude, Austerity and Trial. Together, they make up a foundation that I believe is crucial to the formation of a powerful, self controlled and self reliant individual.
“Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.”
― Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”
The importance of time spent alone cannot be overstated. In this day and age, we are constantly under bombardment from a thousand sources of stimulation at all times, and if one considers the elements of social media and technology use, we are almost never truly “alone.”
One of the reasons for this constant noise is for the individual to avoid this very thing- most people are both uncomfortable and disinterested in this solitary state, as there is nothing to do when we are in it but to explore the self and face the vast, tangled wilderness of the within.
The exploration of this wild frontier is a daunting and dangerous one, and its pay-off is not immediately visible or “shareable,” making it of seemingly limited value in this age of oversharing and premature enlightenment. It is easier to just quickly share a “meme” of the Buddha or the Dalai Llama with a quote beneath it, so that people know you are already enlightened.
For the intrepid, the internal exploration is a dark and endless journey and requires consistency and will. This makes time spent in solitude crucial, in order to become familiar with those deep, unknown places of ourselves, and to be able to take a critical and unattached look at our weaknesses, fears, inconsistencies and illusions- we absolutely cannot improve ourselves if we do not take the time to do this, and it must be done alone, in silence.
This involves taking the time to create a regular practice of meditation- my suggestions is to start simply, by waking up 5 minutes earlier than normal and starting the day in a quiet place of contemplation. Even this 5 minutes of self exploration and quiet before the madness of the day begins will have a positive impact on you as a human being, and allow you to build up a more in depth practice from there. Remember that starting is the important thing- we can always innovate later. Just pick a time and place an start doing it. Worry about the details as you go.
Solitude for longer periods of time has the other benefit of reducing chatter. The famous magician Aleister Crowley once said “The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter.” From the newspaper to the “newsfeed,” many of us have the bad habit of beginning our day by feeding the brain a mainline of sewage, chatter, useless words, garbage thoughts. Like a diet of sugar and trash, this will serve to make the mind sluggish, fat, weak and unhealthy. What we put into our brains matters, and when we open up the floodgates to the lowest common denominator of humanity in the form of too much social media, comments threads, television, or otherwise, we are washing the walls of the inner temple with the excrement of the masses. Instead of opening your day with this storm of negativity and chatter, take the time to instead create silence. To establish calm and inviolability. To strengthen the walls that keep out negative thoughts and patterns, and to give power to your own mantras and prayers instead.
Extended periods of solitude in the form of days, weeks, or months spent in retreat should be sought out as well, when possible, but even a weekend camping trip by oneself with the phone turned off can be a massive current of clean energy reintroduced into one’s life.
“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
The word austerity derives from the Latin “austerus,” which translates as “severe.” It refers, in this case, to the concept outlined earlier, of self-discipline in the form of both living without the unnecessary and choosing those things which make us uncomfortable as a dedication to strength and self-mastery.
The meaning of austerity or tapas is not simply “discipline,” but “to burn.” It is a fervor for transcendence and transformation, quite literally a burning need to become more than we were. It becomes a conscious choice to limit ourselves or undergo some deprivation or hardship without complaint, emotion, or attachment in order to see what we are made of- how much control and mastery we have, and where our priorities lie.
We are offering something up as a blood sacrifice, a prayer to our higher selves in order to become that which we are meant to be, rather than what we exist as in the present time. We are acknowledging and giving ourselves wholly over to improving, to strengthening, and to overcoming our fear of discomfort, difficulty, pain, and adversity. Each time we undergo one of these austerities, we become more able to operate under stress, more capable of functioning at a high level in less than optimal conditions, and more in control of our selves- the masters of the temple.
This “severity” of praxis makes itself known even in our aesthetic and surroundings. Austerity includes the way we approach our personal possessions- a discarding of the unnecessary and the cluttered in favor of a streamlined, simple and minimal style. However, this severity does not mean we must be humorless and grim at all times- far from it! When we can strip away that which is not needed and that which does not add value to our lives, and isolate those things that truly matter to us, we can laugh easily, free from the stress of distraction and overstimulation, the jumble and disorder of too much everything. We remove this bedlam from our lives with the scalpel of austerity and create a singularity of existence and experience which allows us to live in the most effective way. Right action does not mean more effort in more directions- it means quality of effort in the correct direction.
Each day, we must ask ourselves, what is necessary for our highest value, and what is detracting from it? Both in our physical surroundings and the mental and emotional landscape, we are ready with torch in hand to create the fires of tapas and burn away the things that keep us bound to dissatisfaction and distraction.
We can begin with basic austerities- whether that means consistency in the gym, waking earlier for meditation, ice baths and cold water plunges, whatever- these discomfort inoculations lay the groundwork for other acts of devotion and fire, and allow us to start on the road to the high mountain of self mastery.
TRIAL AND ORDEAL
“War is the father and king of all: some he has made gods, and some men; some slaves and some free.” – Heraclitus
What follows in this section is taken from the working manuscript of my “Werewolf Method,” and appeared for the first time in the Reaver Training Protocol, available in e-book format on this website under the Equipment tab.
This life is war.
The entirety of an individual’s progression to the higher levels of self is based on the twin pillars of Trial and Ordeal. It is from these principles that the triad of Physical, Mental and Spiritual strength are created.
These towering and awful monoliths are the altar upon which we sacrifice our lower self daily, in order to give everything we are now for everything we know we can become.
Without the trial of our developing abilities through resistance, experienced both internally and externally, there can be no honest assessment of ourselves and our progress, and without true ordeal, we cannot know how hot the inner fire burns, or if there is ash in a hearth that we thought burned brightly.
What differentiates the two is that a trial is something to be looked forward to, a real chance to pit oneself against some kind of resistance or opposition and overcome it. If he fails, he must reapply himself to his training and attain victory when his next opportunity arises. Trials come in a variety of forms and can be anything from a powerlifting meet to a street fight, a public dissertation or performance to martial arts competition. They are not to be confused simply with training, as all training and practice is, by its nature, done in preparation for trials or ordeals. Let’s clear something up now, while we are on the subject: physical training does not make you a martyr or a “lion”- just showing up to lift weights in order to look better naked is not some towering accomplishment. All across the world right now, soccer moms are waking up in the pre-dawn hours to run through a workout before loading the kids up for school. Your participation in what is for most essentially a hobby does not land you in the ranks of the immortals.
No, it is trial that makes legends of men. If you use that time spent in the gym to compete, to push yourself, break records held by those who exemplify the sport, and bring glory to yourself and those bound to you- then you are beginning to understand the great divide between entertainment and real trial. An amateur performs something, whether a writer or a martial artist, out of pleasure- he shows up and does the work when he “feels like it,” and does so largely out of a lesser form of self gratification that is not in itself a bad thing. Trial, however, is sought out by the strong for a satisfying feeling of true power when it is overcome. Those who seek trial put in the work day after day, with consistency and focus, in order to achieve greatness in their chosen fields. Not to simply write for enjoyment, but because he wants to master the craft and change lives. Not to carve wood or stone from a distracted place of occasional dabbling, but to bring images forth from the raw material that will outlive generations to come.
An ordeal, in contrast, is some heavy and almost always extremely painful experience, something that will push the individual to his absolute limit, where he will either endure the pressure to the end, coming through invariably transformed- or it will break him, possibly for good. No one necessarily goes looking for Ordeal- they will find you at various times throughout your life in diverse forms and threaten to crush you beneath their weight.
When they do so, it will be our fire built up from overcoming trial after trial that will save us from being extinguished. Our personal force has to become strong as we would build up a bonfire- from small stick to entire tree, one piece at a time until that fire is capable of consuming anything placed within its roaring heat. This fire, when it exists, is recognizable even to those who do not understand its source. For those who are initiated, and hear the call of this path themselves- they will know when they are in the presence of greatness.
Oftentimes, an inexperienced individual will mistake a trial for an ordeal. This usually comes from what has been termed a “victim mindset,” one of the greatest enemies of personal overcoming and empowerment that exists. A victim mindset always seeks to tell us that any resistance in our path, no matter how mundane, is “out to get us,” that the universe is somehow slanted against us. Usually, these same people exhibit poor decision making and extremely unproductive behavior with an emphasis on a lack of discipline and foresight, but blame all this on “bad luck,” or some other vague force that is holding them under its weight.
We see this in present day humans chronically blaming others for their lot in life due to oppression based on race, creed, orientation or otherwise, to the always popular “economic environment” argument for an individual’s poor decisions or ineffective lifestyle. These same individuals are the ones constantly shouting for equality, as though by throwing enough tantrums they will miraculously become “equals” in the eyes of those they believe to be oppressing them. Only the inferior strive for equality- those seeking to make more of themselves are not interested in the concept of egalitarianism or “fairness,” and reject that as a childish notion. In this life, we will have either what we can attain and hold for ourselves, or what those stronger than we are decide to allow us.
Getting caught up in victimization is something that we should be incredibly wary of and never tolerate in ourselves or those with whom we keep company. If we believe that we shape our own lives, as both the hammer, the anvil, and the material that lies on it, we have no time for such luxurious and poisonous self delusions. This is a way of sight and truth, and has no desire to assign blame elsewhere for our own failures. They belong to us and us alone, and should all be seen as either learning experiences to build from in the future, or false paths we have taken but are now wise enough to see for what they are.
Every individual who is working through this manual must absorb the concept that Trial and Ordeal are holy to us- sacred rituals that are also landmarks in this wild frontier of self creation. They are precious to us, both our victories and our failures, our great moments of pride and our depths of pain and suffering. These are the tools we hold dear, and our embrace of them is what ultimately will set us apart from the hollow ghosts who are content to live as slaves and victims.