For some of us discipline is a dirty word. It conjures up images of old school principals with pointers in their hands mindlessly insisting that things be done this way because that’s the way they’ve always been done. We don’t want to be disciplined. Discipline is for dogs that misbehave.
We’re free spirits, adventurers who need space to roam and discover. What we need is freedom. And freedom, we think, is the opposite of discipline.
But discipline, along with truth, may set you free.
The teacher Krishnamurti spoke about discipline often. The root meaning of discipline is ‘to learn’. You need discipline to learn about yourself, and discipline to apply what you’ve learned and change your life. It takes effort, energy, attention, time, practice, patience, and repetition—a great deal of it.
It’s hard work. You’ll make mistakes. It’s frustrating. You’ll find it difficult to not go back to your old ways, even when you see how those old ways are killing you.
You’ll need discipline to stay the course, pick yourself up, and keep going.
Discipline is about learning, and to learn you have to be open, flexible. Discipline is as much about staying free as it is about anything.
A famous teacher of Zen Buddhism liked to point out that for a cup to be useful, it has to be empty. If we hope to learn we have to have room like that empty cup. And to have room we have to be free from the past, from what we think we already know and are.
And that is very hard to do, because we are so full of ourselves. Discipline asks that you leave your self behind, that you be able to drop your mask, that you be open to the demands of the moment in a new way.
Discipline requires that you stay open to hints, intimations, guidance, and help from wherever it may come. It asks that you be attentive and aware.
Discipline starts to look like a seasoned samurai, an akido master, or a wise grandmother.
You have to have eyes on the back of your head. You have to be fit, mentally and physically, quick, focused, ready for whatever may happen.
And yet you travel light, both in spirit and in body. Discipline requires that you put down your baggage.
In some Buddhist circles they use the word ‘practice’ to refer to the sitting meditations, prayers, readings, teachings, walking mediations and other practices a person like the Dalai Lama might do every day of his life (possibly for many lives) as he works to become a truly free human being. Whether you call it discipline or practice, it’s about the same thing: freedom, your freedom, from unnecessary suffering, from the bondage of your story and your past, from your habits and your history.You can see how this is a never-ending journey. And no one does it alone. You take help from others, especially those who are walking the same path, trying to live full, loving lives of service and depth. You stay open to help from this mysterious universe we live in, from the source that is keeping all things in existence, whether we know its name or not. You don’t do all this just for yourself—since you may not even have a ‘self’, but that’s another story. You do it for everyone, your family, your friends, your son, your world. It’s a good job. And we’re blessed to be given the chance to do it well.