I rise each morning before dawn, prepare a cup of tea, and sit on my meditation cushion. Whatever happens after that is inconsequential. I’ve made the most important decision of the day. Or should I say, I avoided giving myself the choice of not showing up.
Discipline- an activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill…this is almost a foreign concept in our world today, yet we have these expectations of ourselves that we will regularly __, ___, and ___ (you fill in the blanks). But disciplining ourselves to exercise regularly, or eat properly, or take time for ourselves, etc, refers to imposing our will, and if you’re commitment is weak, you can expect to fall below your expectations.
For years, I have been trying to change habituated patterns that don’t serve me well. For awhile, it seemed like every time I opened a book, a magazine, or heard a wise speaker, the subject of will came up. It was spooky!! Finally I realized that this was a lesson I needed to learn… and even though my training as a dancer has served me very well in committing to daily rituals and routines, making the best choice in every situation remains a challenge.
The will is like any muscle apparently, and needs to be exercised on a regular basis. This is how it becomes strong and serves you. Ironically, for me anyway, discipline seems to require eliminating the choice and just doing.
When I was younger, I remember thinking that to be a great person required some huge AHA type of experience – like discovering a vaccine or leading a nation. But with study and attention, it seems that greatness is more about making consistently good decisions. I’m sure it would be wonderful to end suffering or figure out a way to feed the hungry and end homelessness. But this type of thinking allowed me to ignore all the small decisions I needed to make each day. It allowed me to not pay attention to the mundane tasks that all required good decisions on a daily basis. Now that I’m older, the path is more clear. Discipline is more about making hundreds of smaller decisions well rather than waiting for that gigantic life-changing event that may or may not come.
I’ve also grown up a lot of course. With the help of many fine teachers, many of them that will never know me who I befriended in print and helped me through some of the darkest nights of my soul, I’ve needed some stern, in-your-face kinds of lessons about growing up. We live in a community here on planet earth which therefore requires there be some common practices and rules. Sometimes these are called laws, sometimes it’s simply good etiquette or manners. It’s a bit astounding that this is in such short supply here in the 21st century but we do live in difficult times – there’s a shortage of good role models and in many cases sound parenting, not to mention admirable leaders.
So keep an eye out for all things discipline related in your life – be proud when even the smallest of accomplishments demonstrate your progress even if it’s just the daily flossing, and forgive yourself when you fall a bit short with some of the rest. Tomorrow is a new day of course and another opportunity to work that muscle.