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These days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
There is so much information constantly coming at us from the news and social media, it’s easy to feel like you want to run and hide under rock.
Many of us have more time on our hands because of the COVID pandemic, and yet we feel ourselves a little lost and unsure of how to organize our lives.
We want to accomplish things in our lives and feel useful and inspired, but instead we find ourselves spending hours on social media, watching Netflix, or otherwise indulging in habitual patterns that don’t serve our aspirations.
It’s easy to get depressed and feel isolated. We can start to feel unsynchronized and like we’re victims of our lives rather than creators.
In order to truly meet the moment, we need discipline.
“Discipline” is a word that’s gotten a bad wrap—in fact, even saying that word can make us cringe a little. It brings up notions of the hard whip, of being harsh and militaristic on ourselves. In fact, discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil, meaning to learn.
So being disciplined means to constantly learn. If we shift our thinking around discipline, we can use it to keep going and focus on what matters in our lives. We might want to meditate, exercise, or do our art or writing—whatever practice that keeps us feeling alive and connected. When we have discipline in our lives, we cultivate joy and focus and energy for what matters: our health, our happiness, and helping the world.
In order to cultivate more discipline in our lives, it’s helpful to use metaphors. These metaphors come from the Shambhala teachings, which are ancient warrior teachings from Tibet.
Discipline is like the sun. The sun pervades all of space; it does not shine on one place and not another. We don’t decide to have discipline sometimes or only in some areas of our life. In order to truly have discipline, we need to accept it as part of our whole life. It needs to become part of our identity—how we show up in the world.
It doesn’t mean we become rigid and never let ourselves off the hook. It just means we accept discipline as our overall operating system—not an application we just do sometimes.
Discipline is like a bow and arrow. In Buddhism, prajna and upaya are the bow and arrow. Prajna is the arrow of intelligence, and upaya is the bow of skillful means.
To have discipline and learn, we need intelligence. We need to be inquisitive and curious about the world.
Let’s say we want to eat better and learn about nutrition. Well, we actually have to learn about good food, learn about our bodies and what feels good, and take the time to study some books on nutrition. Then we need the skillful means to apply these teachings to our life. So we may cut out sugar and gluten because we have found that we feel better when we do.
To have prajna and upaya, the bow and arrow, means to be specific. We don’t just do things because they’re trending; we apply them to our lives because we have had the insight that it works for our specific situation.
Discipline is like music; it has rhythm and texture. Life can be challenging, and it doesn’t always go how we want. We make our schedules and plans, but then stuff comes up and we have to shift. When we think of discipline like music, it doesn’t have to be so rigid; it can be soft or loud, depending on what’s needed. But the point is, we keep going. We don’t just stop the music because something throws us off. We can make a beautiful melody in our lives when we keep discipline.
Discipline is like an echo; it has feedback. When we pay attention, we are constantly getting feedback from the phenomenal world. Discipline becomes an unwavering and intelligent awareness throughout all our activities. When we are too rigid, we sprain our ankle; when we are too loose, we forget our car keys. These are just small examples of how to see everything as a reminder to get back on our seat and be present rather than let every upset throw us off.
To have consistent practices in our life, and to stay present in a world that is overwhelming and constantly changing, we need discipline. We need to be open to our journey as a learning experience, not as militaristic. When we are open, we can shift and respond as needed and keep going, despite the ups and downs of life.
I recently started running/walking in the mornings because I realized that if I start my day with exercise, I feel so much better. But some mornings I wake up and don’t feel like running or my schedule is such that I can’t. It doesn’t mean I have to throw the whole thing out; I just shift as needed and don’t give myself a hard time about it. But then the next day, I keep at it.
When we have discipline in our lives, we become more joyful because we know we are moving into our potential. We are vibrating at the level of our aspirations. We become more available to others because we have more space and time to really listen and be present. Our bodies and minds become synchronized as we stick to the rhythms that keep us feeling grounded and awake.
When we shift our thinking about discipline, it can become a joyful experience that keeps us moving forward through the challenge.