Often when the word discipline is mentioned, the automated reflex is to balk at the idea, slander it, and maybe even laugh at it. ‘To be disciplined’ it seems is to have no choice, and importantly no choice would signify no freedom to exercise your own free will, most notably over your wants and your needs.
But we need to pause and ask ourselves; how much are we actually certain or at least clear on our individual wants and needs?
In this shopping-window-world of bountiful choices we would assume that it would be easy to know. Yet, purpose, happiness, meaning and joy are offered to us – not as something we inherently have – but rather are things that we are to ‘attain’. What results from this is a sense of uncertainty and a deeper sense of having no real agency over our own direction.
It is a slippery slope to be caught in this entanglement; or rather this illusion of thinking that freedom is equated with choice. As I’ve said this choice brings a lack of certainty and then from there confusion is born, confusion then leads to a chronic freeze response and next thing we know we are stagnant.
On the contrary, discipline is not stagnant. It puts everything in motion. It creates a pathway toward moving away from, or even in a dynamic tangent, with those things that are holding you back.
All forms of spiritual sadhana (path) require of the student a disciplined approach which will entail a range of different practices, observances, requirements and so forth. This is because regardless of the tradition and the goal, they all recognise that focused attention reveals greater truths than a scattered mind.
The same is also true of science. No feats of modern science and technology could be achieved with a scientist shying away from rigorous discipline.
When the human mind and body is focused, the results are marvelous and most often they can be surprising and revelatory.
An analogy would be this. If you choose ‘freedom’, i.e. ‘I’m not going to commit to a discipline (in whatever field that may be), I’m going to stay with my *choices* and vices, as I’m convinced that eventually this will be bring me joy”, it’s akin to swimming on the surface of the ocean: the same passer-by’s and the same spectrum of shades above keep us in ignorance to the depth below.
However just by shaking this routine up slightly, that is, to dive down into the ocean for just 30 minutes or 1 hour, then new shades, new life and new depths will constantly be revealed, of which could not be known before.
You’re Always Going to be a Prisoner
It boils down to this: you’re always going to be a prisoner to something.
The world as it appears in front of our eyes – we don’t have much of a say as to how it unfolds.
What we consciously digest through the five senses are largely a consequence of the society and culture we are living in and we don’t necessarily have the freedom to negate, escape or determine them regardless if that be media, food, consumer habits, behavioral traits of those around you and so forth. But with a practice and a discipline that works for you? In this case we are free to choose, so why not choose a shackle that is true to you? Unique to you? And one that is not necessarily built upon the premises of the outside world.
In Classical Tantra it is perhaps the most foundational precepts that the goal will ultimately give way to the path. This is to say, that your practice – your sadhana – will become so enjoyable, so bountiful, fruitful and enriching to your lived experience of life, that it takes the place of the goal. Or in other words, it will transpire that the goal you set out to achieve – whether it’s clarity, enlightenment, joy etc. – will become a living reality for you as you progress with your practice.
In the End We’re Looking for Inaction
The paradox is that due to the gathering of momentum via discipline we can eventually arrive at a place of inaction. Freedom blossoms as we are able to sit back and have a bit more of an objective experience of the world. In this place we are not pulled to and for by our vices or the multiple choices which stimulate, excite and confuse us.
Yet we can choose to take part in them because of our knowing that we have a deeper sense of a foundational basis on which to come back to regularly in order to re-gather, reassess ground and steady ourselves onwards progressively without any striving.